Promoting a good working culture in law firms - Part 3: The importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in promoting a good working culture
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Coming out is an extremely personal journey and will be unique to each person. It takes a lot of courage to come out and a person may have to repeatedly do this in their personal and professional lives. Statistics show that 46% of people who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual and 47% of people who identify as trans feel comfortable to discuss their orientation or gender identity.
How can you put the spotlight on intersectionality to remind others that, even within the LGBTQ+ community, not everyone is treated equal?
Are you proud of who you are, your journey and the person that you’ve become? Do you truly wear your heart on your sleeve? For some, being open and honest about who we are (which includes our gender identity or sexuality) does not come easily and can be extremely hard. It can be even tougher at work, and for those that hide their true self, the energy expenditure is endless. That survival cost of energy makes you less productive, or even worse still, it has a detrimental impact on your mental and physical health.
I am a trans woman who has recently embarked on her transition. Having only taken my first steps on this journey, I am acutely aware when writing this that I have much to learn about myself, about being trans, and about the diverse LGBTQ+ family that I now find myself part of. However, there is one theme that I feel is important to discuss as we celebrate Pride in 2021.
Following on from my colleague Sameena Munir’s blog ‘’pray the gay away: cull conversion therapy worldwide’’, the issue of gay conversion therapy dominates contemporary conversations surrounding LGBT politics and legislation in the UK, but the Government has failed to deliver on its promise to ban it.
For two weeks during Pride month, Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and highlight LGBTQ+ issues from home and abroad.
It’s been 9 years since R&B artist Frank Ocean headed off rumours about his particular pronoun usage in the album Channel Orange by posting on Tumblr that his first love had been a man. Since then, the momentum for the openness and success of queer artists has continued to gather pace, and LGBTQ+ representation in the arts and mainstream media is as wide as it has ever been. This rise has however raised important questions about pigeonholing queer artists, and perhaps most interestingly whether they must always shoulder the responsibility of ‘pushing the agenda’.
In February this year, I attended a virtual talk held by the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT+ History Month. The speakers featured individuals working in the legal sector and each discussed their experience of coming out as trans or non-binary at work. It feels an apt lesson given this year’s Pride theme: Visibility, Unity and Equality.
In January 2020, I was fortunate enough to give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. As far as I know, I am the first partner at Kingsley Napley (although certainly not the first employee) who has a baby who is lucky enough to have two mums. News of my pregnancy was met with overwhelming support from my colleagues. That support continues to this very day, and my wife and I remain truly grateful for the kindness that has been shown to us. However, since falling pregnant I have learnt that not all workplaces are as supportive to same-sex parents as mine. The concept of two mums or two dads starting a family is something that some people still struggle to get their heads around. So this year, for our KN Pride blog series, I have decided to explain the questions, that speaking from my own experience, it is not helpful to say to same-sex parents.
We have newly renamed our network to the Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (REACH) group. Our REACH network is a space where we come together to work towards fostering and maintaining an inclusive workplace, where we can all reach our full potential without fear of discrimination.
Satvir Sokhi was recently invited to speak and take part in Leeds Beckett University’s Law Enrichment session which allowed a panel of ethnically diverse professionals to speak to students about our experiences with diversity and inclusion within the legal sector.
On this day each year, over 130 countries around the world seek to celebrate sexual and gender diversities and draw attention to the various forms of discrimination and violence that the LGBTQ+ community continue to experience.
There are various drivers forcing law firms to embrace a more diverse workforce and to attract, promote and retain talent from all backgrounds, regardless of gender, gender-identity, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, and socio-economic class (to name but a few).
Following the tragic events of this week, I have thought back to the past two weeks and considered how my position might have been different if I was a woman. I now recognise just how incredibly ‘normal’ it has become for women to be warned against walking alone at night, which is something I have never had to consider as a man. This dichotomy between the experiences of men and women has been made clear by the reaction across traditional and social media.
Kingsley Napley continue to support International Women’s Day to help forge a more gender equal world. As a firm we pride ourselves on having a workforce made up of over 69% women, with more than 50% in the partnership. However, we know that much work still has to be done in the legal sector and beyond.
An urgent inquiry into systemic racism in the NHS and how it manifests itself in maternity care was launched yesterday. The Inquiry has been convened by Birthrights: an organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth.
Today will see the start of the UK’s first Race Equality Week (an initiative “to unite organisations and individuals in activity to address issues affecting ethnic minority employees”). Whilst initiatives like this and, indeed, the UK’s first ever Ethnicity Pay Gap Day (8 January 2021) are very welcome and a cause for celebration and hope in relation to such matters, there is much work yet to be done on the issue of race equality and we cannot afford to be complacent. The ethnicity pay gap is one aspect of this that still needs to be addressed, despite the recent publicity around it and the increasing pressure on Government to take action.
According to Diversity UK, in 2018 roughly 13.8% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background and 40% of the population in London were from the Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
Kingsley Napley had the pleasure of hosting an evening with Spark Inside. The charity coaches prisoners and advocates for change within the criminal justice system. Please read on to find out what we learnt and how you can help.
Universities UK (“UUK”) has published a new set of recommendations designed to decisively tackle racial harassment as part of wider efforts to address racial inequality in the higher education sector.
Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility