issue-028

Diversity in the legal profession: a research opportunity

By Debra Malpass on 26 August 2016

We often talk about diversity, and rightly so. We have a duty to encourage a diverse legal profession which is representative of the communities it serves and where barriers to entry have been removed. Ultimately, a more diverse profession is a more competitive profession. 

Progress has been made. Yet it is well established that the legal sector, like many others, still has a way to go to improve representation of certain groups entering the profession, as well as rising to senior management. 

We need robust data on the profession to assess how far there still is to go. Earlier this year, we published the results of our research into diversity in the sector, covering more than 9,000 law firms and 170,000 people working in them. This provided many useful insights to add to the research that is already out there— but can we do things differently? Is there data that we still have not made the most of? 

Deeper insights required

The research that is already available has looked at barriers, choices and protected characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation. The majority of this research is qualitative, exploring experiences and perceptions of practitioners. We think investigating the available data on a very large scale could provide the basis for a robust statistical analysis of diversity and career progression. Similar studies have been conducted with other professions. The diversity data collected by us from practising certificate renewals for individuals—the firm level workforce diversity survey and the diversity toolkit—go some way to shining a light on the profile of the profession. However, the actual picture is much more complex. More meaningful insights could be achieved through integrating data on, for example, educationsocial mobility, training, regional location, ethnicity and culture.

Opportunity for working with us

We think this represents an opportunity for joint working and are looking to commission an organisation to help us improve the depth of understanding of this issue by using our data in an innovative way.

We are holding a workshop in September to discuss this in detail. We will talk about the types of data we hold, the research that is already out there, and what we want to achieve. And you will have the opportunity to meet other researchers and discuss your ideas with us ahead of submitting a proposal.

The workshop will be held at our offices in The Cube in Birmingham on Friday, 23 September, and those looking to attend can email us with brief details of relevant experience and interest. 

We hope this project will spark debate and, most importantly, help us gain new, deeper insights into diversity issues in the legal profession. And we hope that this will help us all create a more diverse, more competitive legal sector.

Debra Malpass