While the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 sparked by the death of George Floyd brought racial brutality issues in the police to the fore, the legal profession itself is not immune from room for improvement. As Black History Month comes to a close and the Law Society celebrates its first black president, I. Stephanie Boyce, we look at the findings from a report undertaken between the Law Society and the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division available here, identifying some of the main challenges Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors continue to face today, and what can be done, to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
- Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors report lower levels of wellbeing in the workplace, compared to White solicitors. This is arguably due to the feeling of having no voice, with people struggling with mental health, paying for counselling, or taking a break from the profession.
- Retention rates in larger City firms are lower for Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors, compared to smaller firms.
- Representation at partner level continues to be poor, particularly at larger City firms, despite improvements in junior levels.
- Looking at representation generally in the profession may be misleading – certain intersects may face more challenges and in different ways, than others. A nuanced look is required, looking at different ethnic groups’ experiences as well as different sectors of the profession e.g. in-house, public sector, etc.
- Despite organisations purportedly doing work around workforce diversity, change is either stagnant or too slow in many areas – more work still needs to be done.
What can be done
- Measure entry into the profession as well as progression, with datasets for varieties of groups, and set targets if intake is not representative enough e.g. at senior level.
- Undertake outreach activities and provide structured mentoring programmes. For instance, the Law Society are proud to be participating in the #10000blackinterns initiative, looking to provide paid internships for 5 years, from Summer 2022.
- Ensure recruitment processes are fair e.g. through blind shortlisting, or with contextualised recruitment.
- Focus on inclusion by making it feel safe for staff to speak up about issues, offer impactful and lasting diversity training, and ensure culturally diverse and inclusive corporate and staff events.
- Take a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion, look at gaps, perform regular audits, and evaluate what action is further required.
While there are improvements being made with regards to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, as epitomised by the celebrations of I. Stephanie Boyce as the sixth female, the first Black office holder, the first person of colour and the second in-house solicitor in almost fifty years, to become president of the Law Society of England and Wales, more will still need to be done, to ensure the legal profession is one which truly works for all.