Barclays and other FTSE companies may have strong views on the topic, but it could be argued that it is the Government that has started a mini-revolution on increasing diversity in the legal profession.
In November 2005, Bridget Prentice MP wrote to the UK’s top 100 law firms and top 30 barristers’ chambers asking them to make statistics relating to the demographic make-up of their lawyers available to the public by 31 March.
Firms have also been asked to publish data on how many disabled staff they employ, as well as the number of lawyers working flexible hours.
This radical initiative is part of a series of recommendations contained in a recent Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) report on increasing diversity in the legal profession.
City firms interviewed by The Lawyer have welcomed the move and some are already gearing up to publish this information on their websites.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer published a limited amount of the diversity statistics, including the gender split of partners, in its recent corporate social responsibility report.
Herbert Smith corporate partner Martina Asmar argues that the DCA report does not go far enough. “I think that the Government’s response is a welcome development, as it puts diversity firmly on the agenda of law firms and barristers’ chambers. However, simply requiring firms and chambers to publish statistics does not go nearly far enough,” she says.
Although most City firms have already captured data on the ethnic make-up of their trainees for several years, they have only asked the rest of their workforce to provide this information on a voluntary basis.
So, with the 31 March deadline just around the corner, some firms have raised concerns about not having sufficient time to collect the relevant data.
Lovells partner Lesley MacDonagh says: “The 31 March deadline is certainly helpful in stimulating debate, but in terms of getting firms to provide quality information it’s an arbitrary date.”
Prentice, however, denies that the deadline is too tight. She argues: “I feel four months is adequate time to collate this information. Firms have a duty under the Law Society’s anti-discrimination policy to monitor their workforce and are required by the Law Society to have in place diversity policies. I can’t see why firms would
have difficulty placing information they should already hold on their websites within the timescale.”
One source disputes the value of placing this information on the web. “It’s a rather crude measure and doesn’t demonstrate all the things my firm is doing to increase diversity,” says the source.
However, Michael Webster, a member of the Black Solicitors’ Network, thinks the Government should take a tougher line on law firms that do not comply. “The Government hasn’t tackled the issue of whether these firms which do not publish the data, or do not have a fantastic record on diversity, should be able to bid for government contracts. Once firms see it will have an impact on their bottom line it will affect their response,” he says.
The pressure for firms to monitor diversity is not just coming from within the legal profession. Firms are increasingly asked for this information from clients. Linklaters corporate partner Brigid Rentoul, who sits on the firm’s diversity committee, confirms this, saying: “Clients increasingly request diversity information during the pitch process.”
- Employers of lawyers should be encouraged to look for their recruits from a wider range of universities.
- Firms and chambers should undertake diversity monitoring, including keeping records of the gender and ethnicity of partners and QCs. Information should
be available on the website of the organisation.
- Firms and chambers should adopt policies designed to support equality of opportunity, including:
– monitoring of progression by gender and ethnicity;
– addressing diversity issues through training and development strategies;
– transparency in recruitment practices; and
– availability of career breaks and flexible working patterns.