Ethnic minorities make up only 3 per cent of UK 100 partners

Only 3 per cent of partners in the UK’s top 100 law firms come from ethnic minorities. A third of the firms surveyed have no partners from ethnic minorities at all.

The 2006 Diversity League Table, first revealed in The Lawyer last week (27 March), is a groundbreaking survey of The Lawyer’s UK 100, the 100 largest firms in the profession. The Black Solicitors Network (BSN) and the Law Society have produced the definitive snapshot of diversity within the profession and it makes for sobering reading.

Of the top 100 firms, 40 failed to participate and seven more did not provide enough information to be ranked. Last week The Lawyernamed and shamed a handful of these firms, which represented some of the country’s largest firms.

These were Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds, Irwin Mitchell and Linklaters.

Space prevented The Lawyer from also mentioning Ashurst, Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, Burges Salmon, Cobbetts, Clyde & Co, Denton Wilde Sapte, Halliwells, Lewis Silkin, Macfarlanes and Stephenson Harwood, among others.

The firms mentioned last week have all been keen to launch a PR offensive to try and explain why they did not take part. However, the firms concerned will have difficulty making excuses.

Each firm was sent two letters. That was followed up with a telephone call. When that did not elicit a response, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) wrote to each of the firms independently.

At the same time the Government released a paper entitled ‘Increasing Diversity in the Legal Profession’. In the paper, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Department for Constitu-tional Affairs Bridget Prentice MP said that all firms should comply and, further, she wrote to the top 100 firms and 30 barristers’ chambers asking them to publish diversity statistics rather than leave the responsibility to the CRE, BSN or to professional bodies.

Finally, when firms requested an extension to the deadline, it was granted.

“Anyone who didn’t respond must have been on planet zog,” exclaimed BSN director Michael Webster, a partner at Webster Dixon. The embarrassment caused by non-participation suggests that the Law Society can expect far greater participation next year.

The BSN is much keener to concentrate on the results they did receive. The firms that took part may want to give themselves a pat on the back, but their statistics will not gain any praise.

Allen & Overy (A&O) has no partners from ethnic minorities in London, according to the report. The firm claims it could not collate its figures in time for the deadline but that it does have partners from ethnic minorities and will be publishing these figures when they are completed. Bird & Bird has no black, mixed-race or Chinese associates in London, but 1.25 per cent of its associates are Asian.

It may not be surprising that only 7.84 per cent of Ince & Co‘s partners are women. What is more surprising is that only 10.77 per cent of the Taylor Wessing partnership comprises women and only 11.88 per cent of Simmons & Simmons’ partners are female. The firm’s departing senior partner Janet Gaymer was considered something of a trailblazer among women in the City for her employment practice and her female presence at the head of the firm. She will not be pleased at the current state of her legacy.

The issue of female equality in law firms has been covered in some depth by The Lawyer. The area where this league table really breaks new ground is its breakdown of firms by ethnicity.

The average proportion of ethnic minority trainees in the firms surveyed is 8.09 per cent, but in 2004 19.1 per cent of registered trainees across the profession were from ethnic minority groups. This shows clearly that the country’s largest firms are lagging well behind the smaller firms, which form the bulk of the profession. It also shows they are falling well behind the Law Society’s 10 per cent target, which was set years ago.

Progress is being made in this area. CMS Cameron McKenna has a 21.87 per cent ethnic minority trainee figure, Clifford Chance has 20.43 per cent, with Simmons and Richards Butler close behind. But Bird & Bird has 100 per cent white trainees. A Bird & Bird spokesperson said: “The report prompted us to re-examine the data, and we have found that we did not have the systems in place to provide the correct data.”

Linklaters, which did not take part in the survey, was proud to proclaim that 31 per cent of its 130 trainees for 2007-08 were from ethnic minorities. While these figures were only released as the firm tried to claw back PR ground, it is an encouraging sign.

All firms claim to be widening the net they recruit from – and they need to. A 2005 survey by education charity The Sutton Trust found that 55 per cent of UK-educated partners in the magic circle (minus Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which did not take part) attended fee-paying schools. More worryingly, 71 per cent of partners under the age of 39 were independently educated compared with 51 per cent of partners who were over 39.

Fifty-three per cent of partners at A&O, Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May attended Oxford or Cambridge. Meanwhile, 82 per cent of UK-educated barristers at seven of London’s top sets were Oxbridge-educated.

Webster says: “They could go to any new university in London and will see that the vast majority of students are from ethnic minorities. They could go to any one of these and recruit the best of the best. I guarantee I could find 100 suitable applicants in a week who wouldn’t do any of these firms a disservice.”

Law firms may have to start paying attention. CRE chairman Trevor Phillips said last week that the legal services are inviting the Government to consider legislation to force it to do better. Among recent proposals in the Government’s paper is one that should make firms take notice.

“In purchasing legal services, public sector authorities should give consideration to inviting tenders only from those firms that publish progression data by gender and ethnicity,” reads the proposal.

The Government has tried to backtrack on this by citing difficulties with EU law, but the BSN has studied this issue and cannot find any problems with EU law. It will lobby hard to make the Government follow through on its bold proposal.

Of course, this is not just an issue for law firms, but for business generally. Two years ago, Tyco’s Europe, Middle East and Africa general counsel Trevor Faure asked this reporter if he could name any black general counsels in the City. He could not. Two years on and Faure remains the only one who springs to mind.