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How diverse is the legal profession?

Posted by: Clare Butler 21/04/16
Further Andrew Wintle's recent commentary in the press, this research coincides with our renewed focus on diversity in the legal profession. The real news here is not so much the confirmation of what many of us knew or suspected, but that of a transformation that hopefully marks the beginning of a seismic shift in the way universities source top talent, and the consequent change in uptake by law firms.

We’ve noticed more and more firms moving passed the debate about social mobility and putting diversity policies into practice. This is of course a key focus for our business and we are pleased to be working with a number of firms in recruiting candidates for law jobs from a diverse portfolio.

The Law Society makes a simple case for greater diversity in the profession – a workforce that represents the clients it serves will be able to meet their needs. A recent study from McKinsey & Co supports this idea, indicating that gender and ethnically diverse companies out perform their competitors by 15% and 35% respectively.  While tangible strides are being made towards improving ethnic and gender diversity, social diversity is a more complex issue to combat.

As indicated by Laurence Simon’s recent research, 44% of partners at Magic or Silver Circle firms studied at either Oxford or Cambridge and a further 34% attended one of the UK’s 22 other Russell group universities. While this doesn’t reveal an inherent bias in the industry, as mentioned above many of the top universities are still making progress to improve diversity at their institutions. Therefore, in employing so many Oxbridge graduates, some firms risk being unable to harness the benefits of a diverse workforce.

While there has been some concern over the impact legal apprenticeships will have on overall diversity, the new government initiative, which has created a new route into legal careers, will undoubtedly open up the pool from which trainee solicitors are selected. Other organisations such as PRIME are also striving to increase social diversity in the profession by offering work experience to students who don’t have ‘the opportunity to access it otherwise.’ To echo Andrew Wintle’s point, I would emphasise the importance of organisational diversity, even as good business sense in an industry that is becoming increasingly internationalised with single offices working across multiple regions. To resist diversity is therefore to risk becoming an anachronism.

Time, however, is on the side of diversity and this new movement marks the beginning of an inevitable change in the profession. Solicitors take upwards of ten years to reach partner level, meaning that for many firms that have established diverdfsity programmes in the last decade the true effects are yet to be felt.
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