An independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession – if at first you don’t succeed, try try again, but how many chances do we need?

31 July 2020

As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. In the seventh blog in our series, Jessica talks about the importance of creating an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.


We recently wrote about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in promoting a good working culture within law firms, and explained why one of the key responsibilities of any employer is to create both a diverse and an inclusive workplace.

Legislative and regulatory obligations

Legislation sets the minimum legal obligations – such as ensuring that law firms take steps to remove potential discrimination, harassment and victimisation – but your regulatory obligations extend beyond this. Encouraging an “independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession” is one of the all-pervasive “regulatory objectives” set out at section 1 of the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA), which the oversight regulator (the Legal Services Board (LSB)) and all of the approved regulators, when discharging their regulatory functions, have a duty to promote.

The here and now

The LSB has recently committed to working with the regulatory bodies to collect and evaluate data which is meaningful and also to review the regulatory performance framework in 2021, to find a way that optimally measures how well each regulator is doing at achieving what it has set out to do. The LSB has also said it will also work with the Legal Services Consumer Panel to understand how BAME consumers experience access to justice and the service they receive from legal providers. This follows on from previous work the LSB has undertaken, which spans the best part of a decade.

A regulator’s role in trying to encouraging a more diverse profession

It is just over nine years since the LSB first published guidance under section 162 of the LSA, “for the purpose of meeting the regulatory objectives” and well over a decade since the LSB first began to think about its role in this regard. In this guidance document - “Gathering an evidence base about diversity across the legal workforce and promoting transparency at entity level” - the LSB made clear what it expected of approved regulators to meet this regulatory objective and the approach it expected them to adopt.

Given the clear guidance by the LSB and the timeframes involved, perhaps we would expect the profession to have made more progress than it has. It is therefore not surprising that the LSB is now seeking to once again step in to ensure there is a commitment from the frontline regulators to make further progress in respect of diversity and inclusivity within the profession.

The Chair of the LSB, Dr Helen Phillips, has recently said that following ‘years of limited movement’ over the issue, her organisation will “use its oversight role more effectively to ensure change”. And since the start of 2020, the LSB has been working to better understand how regulators such as the SRA and BSB are performing in this area, and specifically what understanding they have of the longstanding and ever-present barriers to entry and progression. According to Phillips, results thus far have been “disappointing” with only three bodies – BSB, ICAEW and SRA – able to show they understood the composition of those they regulate. Although most regulators showed they understood the barriers to entry, there was little evidence they were using this knowledge to address the issues. And indeed, for me, this is where the problem lies.

An additional area where the LSB considers the regulators need to better understand the data is in relation to disciplinary and enforcement procedures and specifically whether these are disproportionately impacting certain groups of individuals. As things stand, Phillips stated that ‘no regulator was able to demonstrate that they currently have a comprehensive understanding of whether their disciplinary/enforcement procedures disproportionately impact certain groups.” To not yet have this understanding in the amount of time that has passed is hugely disappointing, particularly in relation to the SRA which publically committed to improving its analytical capabilities in this area following the recommendations set out in the Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) of EDI in SRA enforcement prepared by Professor Gus John back in 2014 – six whole years ago.

So, what has the regulator of law firms said in respect of EDI?

The SRA sets out key obligations in respect of encouraging EDI and prohibiting discriminatory behaviour in its recently launched Standards and Regulations (StaRs) and in March 2020, it published its five year review of work it has undertaken in this area. The SRA states that its work over this period has been influenced by the findings from the ICCR. The SRA commissioned Professor John in 2012 to carry out this review and he published his report in March 2014. This focused on the overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors in some of the SRA’s disciplinary outcomes. Professor John analysed SRA data, reviewed its processes and considered complaints that had been made, finding no evidence of discrimination. However, he did find evidence of disproportionality at all three stages of the disciplinary process: when a complaint is raised, during the investigation, and at the point when a sanction is imposed. Between 2009 and 2012, BAME solicitors made up 13% of the entire profession but accounted for 25% of new conduct investigations. His report recommended some improvements the SRA could make to its processes and considered some of the external factors that may be responsible for a higher proportion of BAME solicitors being brought within the SRA’s investigation and disciplinary work.

The SRA has recently committed to publishing a report later this year, detailing what proportion of solicitors who are referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal are from minority ethnic groups. Additionally, the SRA has recently launched an interactive diversity tool and set out its key findings in respect of diversity within law firms based upon data from Summer 2019. The tool has a number of useful filters to compare statistic relating to various diversity categories, including comparisons of the data between firms of different size and work specialism. The SRA has also included data for in-house solicitors as a comparator, where that data is available. Good work some might say; but perhaps many more would say what has taken so long given it is more than six years since the John report was published.

Still so much to be done

You could say that the LSB is flexing its muscles with a genuine hope of bringing about much needed change. And this cannot happen quickly enough. But realistically the responsibility for change cannot fall at the doors of the LSB and to a large extent, not even at the doors of the regulators. We all have to take responsibility for bringing about change, both in terms of adherence to our regulatory and ethical obligations but more importantly in respect of our own moral compasses and the fundamental values we display as human beings.

Law firms have to play a huge role in all of this even to the extent they can influence the ethical behaviour of their workforce and encouraging individuals to display the values of the firm. Much like the gender gap, there is still a substantial discrepancy in BAME partners and trainees at larger law firms in that both black and Asian lawyers are significantly underrepresented in mid to large size firms (those with six or more partners). This is interestingly contrasted with single partner firms, where just over a third (36%) of partners are BAME individuals (up 2% since 2017). The rate of increase in BAME partners in one partner firms from 2014 to 2019 (38%) is more than twice that of firms with 50+ partners (14%). However, when considering seniority differences among BAME lawyers, there is actually very little difference. As of 2018, 21% of solicitors are BAME compared to 20% of partners. This has been followed by a significant increase in the proportion of BAME lawyers working in law firms in general, now one in five. There has been a steady increase since 2014 (14%) to 2017 (21%). One possible explanation cited for this in reporting is the increase in lawyers of Asian origin, up from 9% in 2014 to 15% in 2019. Asian lawyers make up over two thirds of BAME lawyers.

This contrasts starkly with the figures for black lawyers who make up only 3% of lawyers in the UK, this figure having risen by only 1% in six years (since 2014). This needs to change and that change needs to start from now. Not five years on from now, with us looking back and making more excuses for why change has not happened as quickly as we would have liked.

Our black lives matter / Bame blog series

As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. We wanted to do more than just put out a statement of support, we wanted to take substantive action to address the inequalities faced by Black people and other ethnic minorities. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs from our varying practice areas highlighting what we are doing, how you can make a difference and shining a light on the issues.

Our Diversity and Inclusion group is working hard with Human Resources and the Management Team to effect change through methods such as training and reviewing recruitment practices.  We have implemented a lot of change but we recognise we have more to do and we are always looking to make improvements as a firm.  We all have respective roles to play in advocating for issues of inequality and we hope our blogs give you some inspiration as to how you can make a change.


About the author

Jessica Clay is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory department and specialises in legal services regulation, with a focus on regulatory compliance, legal ethics, investigations and public law matters.


Latest blogs & news

1982-1992 – Strength in Numbers

As part of our Pride month blog series, I have reviewed the period 1982 – 1992; the decade in which I was born. In the hope that I can still consider myself to be fairly young, to me, the 1980s do not seem that long ago. In researching the developments made during this decade, however, I was shocked reflecting on how out of touch and discriminatory the law, media and social views still were at the time.

Refugee Week

Refugee Week seems like the perfect opportunity to celebrate and introduce CARAS, one of KN’s two newly nominated charities which we will be supporting for the years 2022-2024.

1992-2002: Mermaids, Consent, and Gaytime TV too

Pride 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first official UK Gay Pride Rally held in London. We are marking each decade from 1972 to 2022 with a blog every week throughout June.

The new standard of proof in asylum claims: a major step backwards for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

The imminent change to the standard of proof in asylum claims risks imposing unreasonable expectations on LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and will make it more difficult for them to demonstrate their entitlement to refugee status.

2002-2012: A decade when Parliament put right two significant wrongs

Pride 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first official UK Gay Pride Rally held in London, and we are marking each decade from 1972 to 2022 with a blog each week throughout Pride Month. This weeks blog covers the decade of of 2002-2012.

2012-2022: Why Pride Still Needs to be a Protest

Pride 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first official UK Gay Pride Rally held in London, and we are marking each decade from 1972 to 2022 with a blog each week throughout Pride Month. 

Celebrating Trans Day of Visibility - A Kingsley Napley Q & A

We were recently excited and grateful to announce that Kingsley Napley was named in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index 2022 of Top 100 Employers List for LGBTQ+ people. While it is vital for workplaces to commit to inclusion and create a welcoming environment for their LGBTQ+ staff, the annual celebration of Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) importantly draws attention to the critical need for more meaningful visibility in the media and beyond in order to pave the way for trans liberation in wider society.

Hidden from History; Why We Should Rediscover The True Stories Behind Queer Art & Culture

Few would disagree with the suggestion that, in order to really understand an artwork and the full extent of its cultural resonance, one needs to know something about the artist who made it. 

Our Diversity & Inclusion Report 2022

Our 2022 report provides an overview of our activities and initiatives across the broad spectrum of diversity. It also includes our statistics for gender, ethnicity, and disability, which reflect our aim of creating a workforce that is fully representative of UK society, at all levels of the business.

Banning conversion therapy: how the UK Government proposals fall short and risk criminalising gender identity counselling services

The UK Government proposals to ban conversion therapy fall short and risk criminalising gender identity counselling services. 

On 29 October 2021 the Government launched a consultation on restricting conversion therapy. Although the Government proposals are a step in the right direction, it only limits conversion therapy rather than banning it outright.

Progress on our pledge to increase diversity and inclusion within Kingsley Napley

When I became Senior Partner of Kingsley Napley in 2018, I made a very clear pledge to the firm – that I would make it one of my key objectives to increase diverse talent and foster a culture of inclusivity.

Black History Month – I don’t have a story as it was normal

Marcia Longdon was recently asked about her journey into law and whether she had a story to share. Marcia initially thought that she didn't have a story. However, as the interview unfolded, the interviewer looked over the camera and said, er, are you sure? So here it is.

How can I celebrate BHM if I’m not Black?

A question that emerges for Black people all over Britain every October is “How can I celebrate the stories of those that have come before me?” In contrast the question that naturally comes to mind for those who are not of Black origin is “If I’m not Black how do I participate in Black History?” Whilst the questions appear to be different there is a common theme – both query how people can do Black History month justice, both have a desire to adequately celebrate a rich history that means so much to so many. But rest assured you should feel comfortable and welcome to celebrate the history of another culture.

Black History Month – why do I care?

Celebrating this year’s Black History Month (BHM) with is powerful campaign, “Proud to Be”, is an apt time for us all to consider why we (should) care about Black history and culture.

Black History Month - The Power of Diverse Storytelling

When Black History Month was established in the United States, over a century ago, it was intended as a way to celebrate and give national recognition to black stories and perspectives.

At Kingsley Napley, we believe in the power of diverse and representative stories and we have found some wonderful and effective ways to share them that you might like to try too.

Celebrating Bisexuality Visibility Day!

The visibility of the “B” in our LGBTQ+ umbrella is marked every year on 23 September. At Kingsley Napley, we are proud to have bisexual members of our LGBTQ+ and Allies Network and strive for everyone to feel like they can be themselves and bring their whole selves to work. Outside KN, and in this year alone, Robin has come out as bisexual in the new Batman comic, more awareness has been raised about bisexuality with celebrities, such as Megan Fox, Lily Cole, speaking out and there is more representation of bisexual people in mainstream shows, such as Sex Education, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

World Suicide Prevention Day

To mark Suicide Prevention Day and raise awareness of the prevalence of deaths by suicide in the UK, Kingsley Napley is set to host a mental health panel discussion on 10 September 2021.

The National Disability Strategy: the most comprehensive, concerted, cross-government plan ever. Is it really?

On the 28 July 2021, the Government unveiled the highly anticipated National Disability Strategy (‘the strategy’). Pledged in the Government’s 2019 manifesto, the aim is to “improve the everyday lives of disabled people”. The Prime Minister described the strategy as the most comprehensive, concerted, cross-government plan relating to disability ever. A bold claim, but is it justified?

Kingsley Napley wishes our Muslim Community Eid Mubarak as Eid al-Adha is celebrated around the world.

Whilst our Muslim colleagues and friends celebrate over communal meals and prayer, it is also a time for us at Kingsley Napley to reflect on the importance of observing and respecting the cultural and religious differences of others. We are motivated to make Kingsley Napley a place which is not only diverse, but also inclusive, where all our people feel able to bring their true selves to work.

Drag queens and activism: a story of political realness

When I told some of my friends I was writing a piece about drag activism, their reaction was almost unanimous… 

"Oh, but, is there much to say?" 

That's when I realised that drag queens, for many, are more synonymous with big hair and lip-syncing  pop hits rather than political consciousness and activism. You can certainly understand the reason for this - we have been totally spoiled in recent years with the explosion of Ru Paul’s Drag Race around the world - the make-up, talents and confidence being a feast for the eyes (and the soul). But we cannot minimise the political importance of Mama Ru’s creation. Who could forget numbers such as “Shady Politics”; the discussions of gay conversion therapy while applying make-up; and Bob the Drag Queen describing his arrest during a 2011 marriage equality protest? Not to mention Nancy Pelosi sashaying into the All Stars season…

R.E.A.C.H. & Allies bulletin board

R.E.A.C.H. & Allies bulletin board

What is Hair Discrimination ? – Kingsley Napley joins the Halo Code

In this REACH podcast hosted by Shannett Thompson Partner in Regulatory, Shannett discusses joining the Halo code, the topic of hair discrimination and what hair discrimination means to them with Kingsley Napley employees from across the firm

Listen to the podcast

Shannett Thompson and Donna Cummings delve into issues around BAME recruitment

In this episode, Shannett Thompson and Donna Cummings delve into issues around BAME recruitment.

Listen to the podcast

Positive representation in the tech industry with Ash Cooper

In this podcast episode of KN BAME Talks for Black History Month 2020, Ash Cooper, IT Director at Kingsley Napley, talks about positive representation and his career in the tech industry.

Listen to the podcast

Shannett Thompson speaks at Urban Lawyers Careers Conf​erence November 2019​

Urban Lawyers works to makes the law more accessible as a career to marginalised groups and improve social mobility and diversity in the legal profession.​

View Urban Lawyers CC 2019 site

Intersecti​onality P​​er-spective - Celebrating Black History Month

Kingsley Napley's BAME and LGBTQ & Allies networks hosted a series of talks at London's Arboretum on 16 October 2019. The focus of the event was to open up the conversation about intersectionality, whilst shining a light on the progress of Black History Month in Britain. The speakers were Charles Irvine, Anthony Francis, Debo Nwauzu and Dr S Chelvan.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2020: BAME heroines who exemplify #EachforEqual

Drawing from the strength of shared experiences, women around the world have been uniting in common struggles such as sexual and domestic violence, pay inequality, reproductive autonomy and climate change. While great leaps forward have been made and women-led movements have been gaining unprecedented attention and support , minority ethnic women are often left behind as these struggles are compounded with the intersection of their race/ethnicity and gender.

View blog post

BAME webinar: Challenges faced at work

Recorded Monday 3 December 2018.

View webinar

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020: “Stand Together”

Holocaust Memorial Day, on 27 January 2020, will mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, where more than a million people perished in gas chambers, most of them Jews. The day is internationally marked in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust and other appalling acts of genocide, including later atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, and to recognise that the lessons of the Holocaust are still relevant, especially at a time when racism and extremism is on the rise across Europe.

View blog post

BAME book club: The Good Immigrant

Our most recent book is by Nikesh Shukla.

Kingsley Napley Diversity and Inclusion Statistics 2019

Download report

Improving diversity at the top

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently launched a consultation on proposed amendments to its Listing Rules aimed at improving diversity and inclusion on company boards and executive committees. In particular, they are seeking feedback on proposals to require listed companies to publicly disclose annually whether they meet specific board diversity targets, including in relation to ethnicity, and to publish the composition of their boards and most senior level of executive management. To understand why such proposals are necessary, it is important to consider the current state of ethnic minority representation in UK leadership, why diversity at senior levels is so vitally important and what steps can employers take to improve diversity.

View blog post

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Close Load more

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility