Firms in the UK top 10 have railed against the Black Solicitors Network’s (BSN) research methodology despite an improved performance and a record number of firms taking part.
The Diversity League Table was launched last year and was greeted with horror by many firms, despite the endorsement of the Law Society, the Commission for Racial Equality and Justice Minister Bridget Prentice.
According to the study, which compiled data from 63 of the UK’s top 100 firms in addition to six from outside the 100, Norton Rose is the highest ranking of the top 10 City firms in seventeenth place. Allen & Overy (A&O) ranked 27th, Clifford Chance 29th, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 39th and Eversheds 40th. Lovells, DLA Piper and Herbert Smith ranked in the bottom half of the table, while Linklaters and Slaughters did not take part.
The research ranked firms based on their number of ethnic minority and female partners, associates, trainees and paralegals, then combined the results to form the overall table.
Clifford Chance, which ranked ninth last year but slipped 20 places this year, said despite the figures it remains committed to encouraging diversity within the firm.
The firm’s diversity manager Sarah Twite said: “We’re disappointed, but we don’t think this truly reflects the diversity within the firm.”
According to Clifford Chance the survey does not give a true representation of the firm’s diversity, because staff are not obliged to disclose their ethnic origin, meaning the firm’s own figures are not representative. Of the trainees due to join Clifford Chance in August 2008, 35 per cent are from an ethnic minority.
Slaughters refused to provide statistics to the BSN because it felt that, because the league table ranks firms on a combination of ethnicity and gender issues, the results could be misleading. For example, if a firm fared well on ethnicity but did not have a large number of female partners, the overall ranking could be reasonably low.
Martin Havelock, head of personnel at Slaughters, said: “We took part in the first survey having had some reservations about the methodology in advance. We felt those reservations were confirmed in the way the results were presented.”
Havelock added that 16 per cent of the firm’s partners are female, while 5 per cent are ethnic minority. Moving down the seniority scale, the figures for trainees are 47 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.
At Linklaters, partner Gavin Robert, who is a member of the firm’s London diversity working group, said the firm did not take part in this year’s survey due to “miscommunication” with the BSN.
It is understood that this ‘miscommunication’ was the failure of any of the senior staff contacted to return the survey. However, Linklaters does publish its diversity statistics on its website.
Michael Webster, vice-chair of the BSN, defended the way the table was compiled. “You don’t get complaints when you look at how firms are doing in a particular sector or in relation to profit per equity partner,” he said. “It seems that when information is required for every other survey firms will provide it, but when it comes to issues like race or gender they become more sensitive.”
The results show that 81 per cent of the top firms have no black partners, with just 3.7 per cent of partners coming from an ethnic minority. Webster said this represents a marginal improvement on last year’s figures, but that there was still plenty of room for improvement.
“Ethnic minorities, particularly black people, are severely underrepresented,” he said. “It’s clear that some proactive steps need to be taken to address that. Firms need to look at more targeted recruitment. Figures show there are lots of black and ethnic minority candidates around, it’s just a case of going to the right places to find them.”
After combining rankings based on the number of ethnic minority and female partners, associates, trainees and paralegals each firm has, Midlands-based Flint Bishop Solicitors came out top. Wedlake Bell, Winckworth Sherwood, Weightmans and Bristows ranked second, third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Twenty two per cent of partners overall are female compared with 54 per cent of associates. The proportion of female trainees in individual firms ranges from 33.3 per cent to 87.5 per cent.