A culture change for legal diversity

Sue Chandler, CILEx Regulation’s Consumer Engagement and Policy Officer, gives an overview of the keynote speeches at the Westminster Forum Seminar on Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession.

Improving diversity in the judiciary

David Lammy MP offered to buy a beer for anyone who could find an ethnic minority judge in cities such as Birmingham, Sheffield and Leicester.

This offer followed the findings of the government review he headed into the treatment of, and outcomes for, BAME individuals in the criminal justice system.

He pointed to areas of the country where there is no diversity amongst the judiciary and expressed his regret that the government had not pursued his recommendation to set diversity targets for the judiciary.

David referred to a deep mistrust amongst BAME populations of the criminal justice system.

Revised statutory guidance on diversity

Jemima Coleman, a member of the Legal Services Board (LSB), referred to findings from the same review that BAME defendants: do not trust the advice of their lawyers and receive longer sentences as a result; and that defendants need advice from people who reflect them and, consequently, they can trust.

Jemima highlighted the LSB’s revised diversity guidance which requires regulators to achieve four outcomes: understanding the diversity of their sector, taking targeted measures to address issues, collaboration and accounting to stakeholders. She reminded us that alongside the commercial and legal reasons for addressing and promoting diversity, legal regulators have a moral role to do so, too. She gave examples of projects that regulators are collaborating on in this area.

Access to the profession: Pathways to qualification

Journalist Catherine Baksi identified CILEx as the solution to the enormous, and for some, prohibitive cost of entering the legal profession – more than £100,000 to become a barrister.

People from non-traditional backgrounds can pursue a legal career through the CILEx route. It does not require a degree and is affordable, enabling aspiring lawyers to earn while learning, with employers frequently paying for their training. The flexibility of training enables individuals to fit it around other life commitments. As a result, CILEx lawyers are the most diverse section of the legal profession.

You can find out more about the diversity of our regulated community from the CILEx Regulation Diversity Survey 2017 report. It follows the first diversity survey of its entire regulated community.

Access to the profession: Recruitment

Charlotte Hart from Mayer Brown explained some aspects of the firm’s approach to graduate recruitment. This includes work with aspiring lawyer groups and the use of blind CVs, with interviewers receiving only the name and degree subject of the interviewee to avoid likeness recruiting or bias towards universities attended. The firm’s application forms provide a free text box to enable applicants to draw on life experiences, rather than the customary approach of seeking responses about traditional extra-curricular activities.

SEO London’s Andrew Fairbairn indicated that a lot of progress has been made since 2000 in enabling the recruitment of students from ethnic minority or low socio-economic backgrounds to legal firms. Many firms recognise the need to have equality and diversity initiatives (EDI) to deliver both social good and commercial benefits – firms without EDI can lose out on bids. Firms have seen that more diverse voices around the table leads to better outcomes.

The issue now is “peel off”. Talented recruits are not rising to the top because they are not given the opportunities to work on key cases

Interesting views were provided by Jane Hatton of EvenBreak, a diversity agency. Disability is the poor relative to gender and race and there is a low take-up of disabled people in the law. She pointed to disability being a characteristic that everyone is more likely to acquire because 2% of the population gain a disability each year. She advocated that the solution lies through a change of culture.

Access to the profession: Education

Westminster Law School talked about educating its students on the challenges certain diverse groups, such as BAME individuals, face to enter and progress in the law, and how to deal with this together with providing career support, including how students can make themselves attractive to employers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority noted the progress made within the legal sector, with legal firms at the top of Stonewall’s list of the most inclusive employers. There is collaboration between legal regulators around diversity. This facilitates sharing pieces of work, research, good practice and identifying possibilities for joint work. The regulators come together for PRIDE, to demonstrate that the legal workplace, and the law, is for everyone.

The Law Society’s recent study into Women in the Law found that nearly half of those surveyed thought there had been progress in gender-equality. However, the views of men and women differ significantly, with 74% of the male respondents reporting progress, but only 48% of women.


I concluded that, while initiatives and work being carried out is encouraging, there is still a lot to do. Work to effect a cultural change in some areas of the legal profession, and in relation to certain diversity characteristics, is crucial.



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