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How Diverse is the Legal Profession in the UK?

Diversity in the workplace is important because it helps workers from all backgrounds to experience high morale and increased productivity.

It’s important to measure diversity across an entire industry to help identify any potential hurdles for people who might want to forge a career in it.

In an industry with as much prestige as law, it could arguably be even more important to measure this.

The most comprehensive study of diversity in the legal industry is an annual survey conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The most recent edition of this study was published in August 2017. Some 92% of law firms reported their diversity data in this study. The study features information from almost 180,000 people across nearly 9,000 firms.

Below, we summarise some of the findings and compare this to the UK workforce as a whole.

Gender

Women make up 47% of the UK workforce and 48% of lawyers in all law firms.

They make up three-quarters of other staff working in law firms. These percentages have remained somewhat stagnant since 2014.

There is bigger lack of gender diversity when you consider the seniority of lawyers. In this study, women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors, but only 33% of partners.

Some 2% of solicitors, 2% of other staff and 1% of partners identified as transgender.

Ethnicity

The report tells us that 11% of the UK workforce were Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) in 2015.

Some 14% of workers in the UK legal industry are BAME. It was just 9% in 2014. The report suggests an influx of Asian lawyers is mostly responsible for the increase. Asian lawyers make up two-thirds of all BAME lawyers.

There is very little difference in these proportions when seniority is considered either. One in five (20%) partners are BAME.

Disability

One in ten (10%) of the UK workforce has a disability, but this proportion falls to 3% in the UK legal industry.

Sexual Orientation

One in fifty (2%) members of the UK population identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, although LGBT charity Stonewall reports that this figure could be as high as 7%. Some 3% of those working in the UK legal industry identified as LGB in the survey, although 8% said they preferred not to say and a further 6% provided no answer.

Religion and Belief

Just over half (51%) of all lawyers identify as Christian. Those who had no religion or belief form 30% of this industry.

The next largest faith group is Muslims (8%), while 3% identified as Jewish, 3% said they were Hindu, 2% Sikh, 2% other and 1% Buddhist. There has been very little change to these figures since 2015 and no alarming discrepancy compared to the UK as a whole.

Social Mobility

In the past, the legal industry has been accused of a lack of diversity when it comes to acceptance of lower classes.

To measure this, the SRA survey measured the proportion of employees who attended a fee-paying school and whether an employee was the first generation in their family to attend university.

Some 22% of all lawyers attended fee-paying schools, compared to 7% of the UK. There is 7% of ‘other staff’ working in a law firm that attended fee-paying schools.

It could be argued that this is the biggest diversity gap being experienced in the UK legal industry, as all the others explored had small gaps compared to the population as a whole.

Interestingly though, 59% of partners were the first generation in their family to attend university, compared to just 49% of solicitors.

Lots of efforts have been made to increase diversity in the legal industry, and there is clearly some success. However, these stats show there are still improvements that can be made, particularly when tackling the problem of class diversity.