Promoting diversity and inclusion are at the heart of what we do. It is vital that everyone who needs legal services can access them regardless of their background, and that the profession reflects the society it serves at both entry and senior levels.
Within the bounds of our responsibilities, we strive to influence and shape how approved regulators and legal service providers address diversity and inclusion.
In addition to integrating diversity and inclusion into our work and our organisation’s culture, we have statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010. As a public authority, we must comply with the public sector equality, which requires us to have due regard to the need to:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
- Advance equality of opportunity between people who share protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation).
- Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
- Our diversity and inclusion work programme includes a range of projects with equality and diversity at their core and which help us to fulfil our equality duty.
Diversity and inclusion in the legal services sector today
Our State of Legal Service 2020 report reflects on ten years of independent regulation, and it concludes that progress in improving diversity and inclusion in the legal services sector has been slow. In particular, the pace of progress in closing attainment gaps at senior levels of the profession has been too slow. Everyone across the sector needs to work together to ensure that the profession reflects the diversity of the communities it serves, at all levels.
There have been some successes. The year 2019 marked one hundred years of women working in the law, but also the milestone of there being more female than male solicitors for the first time. Compared to the UK workforce average, there are higher proportions of BAME lawyers in most professional groups, while there is parity of both black solicitors and barristers on this basis. There are more LGBTQ+ lawyers than the UK population average. Some professional groups have particularly strong records on specific protected characteristics: three-quarters of legal executives and licensed conveyancers are female, while three in ten costs lawyers are from BAME backgrounds.
However, some groups are less well represented. The proportion of disabled lawyers appears to be well below the UK workforce average. A study by Cardiff University found that lawyers with disabilities face daily discrimination because of ignorance and unconscious bias as well as blatant prejudice. There is a substantial over-representation of lawyers who were privately educated – 40% of UK educated notaries, 37% of barristers and 21% of solicitors attended fee-paying schools. This compares to the UK population average of 7%, although it is on a slightly downward trend.
Encouraging and promoting a diverse workforce
The LSB and the approved regulators and regulatory bodies must meet the regulatory objective – To encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. A diverse population of consumers and users of legal services requires a diverse legal profession.
The legal profession should reflect the communities that it serves more closely. The LSB’s research has identified significant challenges facing the legal sector. Based on our findings, we will be exploring with the regulatory bodies how to evaluate diversity initiatives better and share learning points.
The current LSB statutory guidance published in 2017 has four outcomes and requires the regulatory bodies to establish the most effective ways to comply with the guidance. The four outcomes are:
- The regulator continues to build a clear and thorough understanding of the diversity profile of its regulated community (beginning at entry), how this changes over time and where greater diversity in the workforce needs to be encouraged.
- The regulator uses data, evidence and intelligence about the diversity of the workforce to inform development of, and evaluate the effectiveness of, its regulatory arrangements, operational processes and other activities.
- The regulator collaborates with others to encourage a diverse workforce, including sharing good practice, data collection and other relevant activities.
- The regulator accounts to its stakeholders for its understanding, its achievements and plans to encourage a diverse workforce.
In 2020, the LSB set out that within the current outcome framework, what good regulatory performance looks like on equality matters. Regulatory bodies should have:
- An understanding of the composition of their regulated community
- An understanding of the barriers to entry and progression within the regulated community, and a programme of activity to mitigate those barriers with measures in place to evaluate effectiveness; and
- Measures in place to understand any differential impact on protected characteristics within their disciplinary/enforcement procedures.
Using equality and diversity research and evidence to inform and develop our work programme
Equality and diversity in respect of consumers are important components of our research. We collect information on various factors such as age, gender, income and ethnicity. Equality and diversity also form part of the tender evaluation criteria for our research work, where we request information both on bidding organisations’ diversity policies and on how diversity issues would be addressed in the research being tendered.
We have conducted Equality Impact Assessments in our work on alternative business structures.
We are also developing an internal “consumer toolkit” for our colleagues, which is designed to help us keep consumers at the centre of the work we do. It includes profiles of diverse groups, so we have a starting point for understanding the needs and expectations of consumers from different backgrounds. We also maintain and develop links with a wide variety of organisations representing a range of diversity interests.
Our own practices and policies
We actively embed diversity and equality practices into the way we operate as an organisation. It is right that we should do so when we are promoting and encouraging approved regulators and the legal profession to address equality and diversity issues. To this end we have:
- Surveyed and published details about the diversity of our own staff.
- Provided training for all colleagues and Board members on equality and diversity.
- Adopted a protocol so that we only work with firms who have made a commitment to diversity and equality.
- Adopted recruitment processes that are in line with our equality duty and undertake diversity monitoring of applicants.
- Undertaken to make our documents available in alternative formats when requested.
LSB Equality Objectives and reporting
The LSB is among the list of public authorities that must publish information to demonstrate compliance with the Equality Duty. We consult on our Equality Objectives as part of our business planning process and publish our annual Equality Objectives in the final Business Plan for the year.
Our equality objectives are:
Objective 1: Through our regulatory oversight role, encourage and work with the approved regulators to promote equality and diversity, including developing a diverse workforce across the legal sector at all levels by:
- Assessing regulators’ implementation plans to gather and evaluate diversity data.
- Reviewing and monitoring the progress made by regulators in delivering their implementation plans.
- Continuing to engage with approved regulators and others on how best to enhance a more diverse workforce across the legal sector.
Objective 2: Ensure our decisions take account of all relevant equality and diversity information by:
- Factoring equalities and diversity elements into our research, whether on workforce or consumer issues.
- Undertaking equality analysis where appropriate when developing our programme and polices for consultation.
- Engaging with diversity groups and organisations.
- Continuing to encourage the Legal Services Consumer Panel to develop a wide range of contacts and to incorporate diversity and equality into its consideration of consumer issues.
Objective 3: To ensure that the LSB’s own practices and policies, including its internal staff and external stakeholder engagement focus on equality and diversity issues, and are examples of the approach we promote to others. We will do this by:
- Ensuring that our publications are available in a variety of formats on request.
- Monitoring and publishing the diversity profile of our staff and responding to the results (bearing in mind the size of the organisation).
- When tendering for services, work with firms who can demonstrate that they have a commitment to equality and diversity.
- Applying recruitment processes that are in line with our Equality Duty.
We have prepared a report of our performance against our 2013/14 Equality Objectives.