Diversity In Family Law: SRA Risk Outlook 2019/20

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have released their Risk Outlook for 2019/20, citing ‘Diversity in the profession’ as one of their nine challenging key risks which continually needs tackling in the legal industry. 

Promoting diversity in the legal profession has been a difficult task over many decades and despite many campaigns to address the issuestill more needs to be done. 

In the 2018/19 Risk Outlook it stated: 

“Our law firm diversity tool shows that entry into the profession is diverse but women, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled lawyers continue to be under-represented at partner level, particularly in large firms.”

Fast forward another year to 2019/20 Risk Outlook the profession is still singing from the same hymn sheet as the Outlook states that ‘more needs to be done to improve the representation of all groups especially in senior roles’. 

The Outlook reveals that even though a third of all partners are women in small firms, in firms with five or more branches, the figure reduces to below 30%. And although black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) practitioners across all firms make up 20%, BAME only make up 8% of the workforce in large firms. 

It states that those firms who do not adopt a workplace culture promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are at a much higher risk of not protecting the well being of their staff and clients and will not make good decisions for their business and clients. 

Research findings reveal that some members of the public who lack trust in the legal system has been linked to a lack of diversity in the legal landscape and that an unrepresentative legal professional can have a negative impact. 

Disability in the legal profession is highlighted in the Outlook stating that one in four people will be affected by mental ill-health during their life and 83% of all disabled people develop their disability during their working life. 

The SRA Outlook states that ‘disability status is under reported in the profession’. With only 3% of solicitors and partners saying they had a disability in 2017, compared to 10% of everyone in employment. 

It is believed that peoples assumptions about disabilities hinder the pathway to progression for those who have a disability or poor mental health, so they shy away from talking about their disability. 

The Outlook sets out recommendations by highlighting to firms the Equality Act 2010 which protects people from discrimination, by encouraging equality of opportunity and respect for diversity 

It continues to reiterate the importance of firms to make a continued effort for wider representation in senior roles’ and for all businesses to have the correct controls in place to combat indirect biases and discrimination, and to only judge candidates on skills and experience. 

SRA said that EDI is being considered in their Corporate Strategy and the work that they do. They are also looking at the gender pay gap – which is much lower than the national average. 

Furthermore, legal mental health charityLawCare launched their new advocacy scheme this year, to coincide with World Mental Health Day. The program aims to appoint legal professionals in the UK to act as mental health and well-being advocates within the legal community. It is a free and confidential advisory and support service to help lawyers and their immediate families with mental health problems. 

EDI in the legal profession is vital for many reasons and firms should reap the benefits of a diverse workforce. Despite many attempts and many years of trying to improve the diversity within the legal sector, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to improve the representation of all groups, especially in senior roles. 

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