Ethnic minorities find top jobs out of reach

People from ethnic minority communities are still struggling to reach the highest ranks of practice in UK law firms, according to a five-year trend highlighted by the Black Solicitors Network’s latest Diversity League Table (DLT).

Michael Webster
Michael Webster

The results show that 16 per cent of all trainees in this year’s DLT sample are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared with 11 per cent of associates and 5 per cent of partners.

Now in its sixth year the DLT, which is sponsored by The Law Society, is an annual analysis of ethnicity and gender diversity in law firms and chambers at all levels, as well as the representation of disabled and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) employees.    

The picture has improved slightly since 2007. Back then, 11 per cent of trainees were from ethnic minority backgrounds, along with 10 per cent of associates and 4 per cent of partners.

But dig a little deeper and the trend among the firms in the UK top 100 sampled for the DLT is not quite so encouraging. The proportion of ethnic minority representatives only shows a substantial increase at the level of trainee, with 10 per cent in 2007 and 15 per cent in 2011.

The proportion of ethnic minority associates increased from 10 to 11 per cent over the period, while the figure for partners remained static at 4 per cent.

While the situation in participating City firms is poorer than it was in 2007, more significant improvements have been made among other participating firms in the top 100.

The proportion of ethnic minority trainees in City firms has increased from 10 to 18 per cent, while the figure for associates has jumped from 9 to 14 per cent. Partner numbers remain low, creeping up from 3 to 6 per cent.

“There’s been a slight improvement in the proportion of ethnic minority associates,” said DLT editor and Black Solicitors ­Network board member Michael Webster.

However, a significant proportion of these ethnic minorities are Asian, so the number of black associates is low.”

As a proportion of all the ethnic minority associates in the sample, 6 per cent are from an Asian background, while only 1 per cent are black.

Webster added that ­consideration will also have to be given to the possible effect the hike in university tuition fees will have on future diversity statistics.

“It remains to be seen whether we’ve reached a ­tipping point in terms of students who are prepared to take on that debt,” he said. “It’s difficult to assess, but given that the social ­mobility gap has widened in the past three years even without this policy, it seems more likely than not that the policy will have a negative effect.”

Baker & McKenzie partner Sarah Gregory said the recession has not affected the firm’s commitment to attaining greater diversity.

“Although the recession has made the legal market more competitive, diversity has retained its importance as a key strategic consideration,” she said.

Shoosmiths knocked Linklaters off of the top spot in this year’s DLT. The ­former topped the first DLT back in 2006.

“We don’t have targets or quotas but our whole approach is based on ability as opposed to background and where you come from,” said Shoosmiths chief ­executive Claire Rowe.

The firm supports initiatives designed to attract people from minority groups into the legal profession. This includes the Legal Launch Pad programme run by the Black Lawyers Directory, a scheme that targets ethnic minority students while they are at ­university.

In total, 44 firms volunteered to participate in the latest DLT. This figure includes 13 international firms, 26 UK top 100 firms and six of the City’s top 10 firms.

Eighteen chambers also agreed to take part.