Ethnic minority lawyers face steep challenge to reach top of ‘pyramid’

Diversity league table highlights ‘very slow pace’ in representation of gender and ethnic diversity in 10-year review

Ethnic minorities in the legal profession face a difficult journey to reach the heights of the profession, according to the latest diversity league table from the Black Solicitors Network (BSN).

Figures comparing demographics in law over the last ten years show that ethnic minorities are still underrepresented: ‘The one thing that a 10-year review underlines is that progress has been painfully slow,’ the report said.

Only 8.1 per cent of QCs and 6.1 per cent of partners are from an ethnic minority background, this year’s results report. This is compared with 6.2 per cent of QCs in 2009 and 3.7 per cent of partners in 2006.

The latest figures from the Law Society and Bar Council state that only 5.5 per cent of QCs and 8.6 per cent of partners are from an ethnic minority background, despite 20.5 per cent of pupils and 22.7 per cent of trainees coming from the same.

In its report – which 36 law firms and 20 barristers’ chambers participated in – the BSN likened the journey of ethnic minority lawyers to an ‘Egyptian pyramid’, where attrition is evident at all levels of the profession, with a steeper challenge in the early stages.

Further, black lawyers only made up 0.7 per cent of partners and 1.5 per cent of QCs in the sample.

The report also highlighted the representation of women in the profession, with only 17.8 per cent of QCs and 25.3 per cent partners, despite the fact that 44 per cent of pupils and 60.8 per cent of trainees are also women, according to figures from the Law Society and the Bar Council.

The BSN suggested that firms and chambers should adopt a different focus to their retention and promotion strategies aimed at women and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

BSN chief executive Cordella Bart-Stewart said: ‘In this year’s DLT, we report higher levels of gender and ethnic diversity at junior levels, which is good.’

‘However, the attrition levels as we move up the professional ladder are a cause for real concern,’ she said. ‘The issues of retention and promotion continue to present a more of a stubborn challenge for the profession and we have not seen anything like enough movement in those areas.’

In a foreword to the report, Prime Minister David Cameron said that organisations like BSN ‘can make sure that Britain really is a place where opportunity is truly equal and people are judged by their talent, and not by anything else’.

He continued: ‘No one should be held back because of their race, gender or religion, whether this is making university applications or applying for jobs – everyone should be inspired to reach their potential.’

Solicitors Journal is proud to be a media partner of the Diversity Legal Awards 2015

Matthew Rogers is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journal matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk