Justice minister Bridget Prentice has implored firms to not pigeonhole their female or ethnic minority lawyers.
Speaking today (16 May) at the second annual diversity conference organised by The Lawyer, Prentice told the audience that, although firms had improved their diversity statistics, firms often channelled female and ethnic minority lawyers into family or immigration work rather than really judging each individual's strengths and preferences.
She said: "Firms should recognise the individual qualities of each person and use them to the best effect. Diversity is about widening the pool of new talent and seeking the best candidates for different sections of the law."
Firms also have some way to go in becoming transparent about their diversity statistics, said Prentice. "People like dealing with companies that demonstrate their commitment to equality and diversity. Legal firms could benefit from making their stand on this public."
In November 2005 Prentice wrote to the top 100 firms and top 30 chambers as ranked by The Lawyer to encourage openness in their hiring of female and ethnic minority lawyers.
Then, at 2006's diversity conference hosted by The Lawyer, Prentice blasted firms for their lack of transparency. At the time she said: "This isn't about quotas or league tables, it's about showing a real and lasting commitment to diversity. What is there to be afraid of?" (The Lawyer, 31 July 2006).
As of last month, 40 firms and seven chambers had published their diversity data. This is up from 34 at last year's conference.
Other speakers at today's conference included Tyco general counsel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Trevor Faure and Grahame Aldous of the Bar Council's equality and diversity unit.