Women QCs: a quick look at the data

The MoJ’s press release on recent QC appointments says this, “More female and black and minority ethnic candidates have been appointed Queen’s Counsel than ever before.” And the QC appointments panel data says this, “We are pleased that the number of women applying and being successful continues to rise, and that the proportion of women amongst those appointed is at its highest level ever.” (see the press release on its site).

So it is worth pointing out the following.

The year the most women were appointed as QCs in absolute terms was in 2006 (there were 68 compared with this year’s 56). You can see the graph of the data here.


And in terms of the proportion of women applicants,  66% of women applicants succeeded in 2011/12 whereas this year it was 55%. Another picture…


And if we turn to the data that the press departments want us to focus on, we do indeed see that this year there was a higher proportion of women appointed.


That’s an increase from 23.4% last year to 27.4% this, but it was 26.9% the year before that. So this year is 0.5% higher than the previous best for that statistic.*

Of course, the most important thing about those two lines is how far apart they are; and the most important lessons from the data are probably learnt from the number of applicants and their success rates. Oh, and the length of time this is taking.

*n.b. a previous draft of this post used the wrong data. The graph and the data have been corrected here.

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Law: It’s all a game

Happy New year! I am tempted out of my accidental blogging purdah by a genuinely fascinating story in Legal Week on Taylor Wessing’s use of Cosmic Cadet. Cosmic Cadet is not a replacement term for trainee solicitors indicating the uber-global commercial awareness of the modern day law student. No. It is a possibly cringe-worthy test designed to measure (per the maker‘s website):

  • Cognition. How an individual processes and uses information to perform mental operations.
  • Thinking Style. How an individual tends to approach and appraise problems and make decisions.
  • Interpersonal Style. An individual’s preferred approach to interacting with other people.
  • Delivering ResultsAn individual’s drive to cope with challenges and finish a task through to completion.
With such an awful title, there must be something in it, no?  Arctic Shores claim strong levels of scientific support for their approach, including that all of their ‘research’ (not all of their testing or application or interpretation, I note in passing [NB, I am reassured since posting this that, “our testing, interpretation and general validity has been independently reviewed” – see below in comments section] is reviewed (with what results we know not) by “independent subject matter experts“.
If I am sounding sceptical, in fact, I am more interested than sceptical. The attributes that Legal Week highlighted as measured by the test are particularly worthy of scrutiny:

Thinking style
Risk appetite
Managing uncertainty
Potential to innovate
Learning agility

Interpersonal style
Social confidence

Processing capacity
Executive function
Processing speed
Attention control

Delivering results
Performance under pressure

No mention of ethics was my first reaction – and remains my strongest one. Risk appetite is likely to be related to ethical inclination and some of the other measures may be too. It would be especially interesting to know what kinds of risk appetite users of the test want. The rather weakly evidenced assumption in the industry is that lawyers are risk averse, in the same way as lawyers are seen as both show-offs and introverts. An interesting part of the test will be the capacity of Arctic and the firms to learn more about the truth of such claims.

Fascinating too would be an explanation of how would-be trainees are supposed to manage uncertainty. There is an uncomfortable impression given by this list of the trainee as a machine, a resilient robot, a chip in the supercomputer that is big law. That’s an unfair impression, I am sure, but it is one which I hope the firms who are thinking along these lines think carefully about. Taylor Wessing, to be clear, seem to be thinking carefully about how the tests integrate with their wider processes of assessment.

Resilient, high performing people are one thing; systems that break them or lead them astray are another. I would not say law firms are broken, but there is plenty of evidence that they can and do lead some people astray. And it is absolutely vital that if firms are thinking along these lines they pay more than lip service to the moral capacities of their candidates and the ethical resilience of their systems and culture. I don’t see that in these tests. Perhaps it is to be found elsewhere.


Postscript: there’s another excellent story on this here http://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-news/gamification-taylor-wessing-using-video-game-to-assess-trainee-aptitude/

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Keyser, So…

Yeah, alright, enough with the De Keyser gags.

I am very pleased to announce that David Pannick QC has agreed to adorn the latest Billable Hour tee shirts celebrating the end of Miller hearings, Pannick’s advocacy (you know how prone I am to sycophancy, so don’t make me say more), and Sean Jones QC’s awesomeness in setting up the Billable Hour appeal.

You can buy them here. All profits got to Billable Hour

Anyone know Lord Sumption’s size?


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Wrath of Khan: the Search for…

It has come to my attention that proceedings related to the ones discussed in my recent Wrath of Khan post are subject to reporting restrictions. I am very grateful to the person who alerted me to this. In the circumstances, I am taking down the blog for now.

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Quality and cost post SQE

The SRA continues to proselytise about its SQE proposals. I confess I have still not had a chance to fully digest the detail but I get a little bit more anxious with each bit of detail that surfaces. One point struck me whilst reading this rather good story on Legal Cheek. The SRA education director (Julie Brannan) says it would be “hard to devise an exam that could possibly cost as much as £15,000, even including training”. Tempting as it is to deconstruct the sentence with more vigour, or to simply chortle, Mwahahaha, I will simply say this: if the SRA is right – as it claims – that the exam will significantly drives up standards then there is at least a plausible case that both the exam and the training necessary to deliver those standards will be more expensive than currently. There are other possibilities, perhaps some of the training can be done away from classrooms, on the job, without the students/trainees being charged for it, and perhaps some of the training will be rolled up into LLBs and that will reduce cost – but I am not sure how much I would bet on it unless we suddenly magic up a whole lot of price competition where there has been little to date.

An interesting further point is made about price and quality. Julie notes in the same story that purchasers often treat price as a proxy for quality. This, she thinks, is one of the reasons behind the driving up of LPC fees. I do not know if this is true or not, but it is a plausible problem. Relatedly, The SRA are putting quite a lot of eggs in a basket marked publication of SQE results. This, they seem to be hoping, will help contribute to a better market for SQE related training. It’s not at all clear why, where prices have raced to the top in the past, they will now race to the bottom. But anyway, they want to, it seems, publish individual institution’s SQE averages for their students. This they will do, perhaps, whether or not the institutions conduct SQE training, and in situations where the SQE training may be very extensive or very lightly geared towards the SQE assessment. There are various problems with this, but a big one is that the link between the intervention (the training) and the outcome (the SQE result) maybe really rather tenuous. Imagine that Oxford changes its LLB not one bit and ignores the SQE; that Keele changes its degree programme to make their students part-SQE ready; and Northumbria preps the students for all the assessments that it possibly can. And then imagine comparing their SQE pass rates. What will they mean, and who’s behaviour will they influence?

But even putting this to one side, I found myself thinking back to when I chose to do the Law Society Finals. Then, the Law Society had a central assessment and league tables were published of success rates for each LSF provider. I remember because I chose my institution, Birmingham Poly as it then was, because it had a high success rate. This seemed the obvious, rational thing to do. I did, however, have to swim against a certain “you should choose the College of Law” tide because “law firms prefer the College of Law” even though the outcome is that the College of Law is achieving were poorer then. That tide was dominant even though there was a plausible case for saying that the College of Law was a rather poor institution then- indeed it was about to be given a good shakeup by the erstwhile head of Nottingham Law School, Nigel Savage.

Readers of the better memory may be to remind me whether there were price differentials between the College of Law and the institutions, and whether that might have influenced decisions or a suggested a healthy market in quality and cost. My suspicion is there was not, but that may have been because prices regulated? Anyway, my basic point is that in spite of a very clear link between outcomes (the exam results) and the interventions (the training provided that those institutions), a link that – for all that it was flawed – is significantly clearer than the SRA’s current proposals, we nevertheless had a reputational market which still (I think) favoured the College of Law. Why, if that were true then, would we get a more responsive market for quality and cost now?

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The Political Ideology of Lawyers

An interesting paper has been published (open access version here) on the Political Ideologies of US lawyers. The research has linked, “the largest database of political ideology with the largest database of lawyers’ identities to complete the most extensive analysis of the political ideology of American lawyers ever conducted.” Data on ideological leanings is derived from a database of federal campaign contributions made by individuals and that is linked, using an algorithm which matched contributors who identified as lawyers to apprioprate entries in Martindale Hubbell. Ingenious, even if not perfect. A person’s ideological commitment is calculated based on the nature and size of such contributions. Various testing was done to try and be sure this was a reasonably robust measure. It wasn’t immediately clear to me how it would deal with lawyers in the centre who did not tend to contribute. And interestingly, in their sample – which was very large – over 40% of lawyers had contributed.

They find that:

American lawyers lean to the left, [and] there is a (slight) bimodality to the distribution. Although there is certainly a peak of observations located around the center-left, there is also a second, smaller peak in the center-right. In other words, the ideology of American lawyers peaks around Bill Clinton on the left and around Mitt Romeny on the right.

Indeed, lawyers fell in the middle of seven professions: journalists and academics to the left, accountants; bankers and financial workers; and medical doctors to the right. It got me speculating, with prejudice and no significant knowledge, about what situation would be in the UK, especialy that bit about doctors. They also found that women are more liberal than men; government lawyers are more liberal than non-government lawyers; and, “law professors are more liberal than the attorney population. [Although, t]his effect is slightly smaller in magnitude than gender or government service.” Now, if you’re a practitioner in the UK, I’m betting you speculating now alongside me.

In many ways, the findings are interesting if unremarkable, much of the impact on attorney ideology relates back to where they are from, their age, and so on. Turns out lawyers from Texas are, well… you work it out. Elite firms, interestingly, and elite law schools, tend to lean slightly more towards the left relative to others. Firms that are less inclined in this direction are most often in firmly Republican States. Enron’s old lawyers are one of the few firms identified as having conservative partners and associates. Couldn’t resist putting that little factoid in.

Generally, then lawyers seem to be (in the US, on this data) somewhat less extreme versions of their local fellow electorates. They are also interestingly able to compare, depending on how accurate the specialisations in the Martindale Hubbell directory are, the relative political ideologies of different kinds of lawyers. The results are not very counterintuitive. The graph clipped below reports regression results. As such the results are not saying that all oil and gas lawyers are very right wing, just that they are significantly more right wing than other lawyers when other factors that are important are controlled for (such as age and gender).

One thing might be worth noting in the context of today’s big announcement on personal injury reform. In the United States at least, those involved in person injury defence appeared likely to be more right wing than lawyers on average, whereas claimant lawyers appear to be more left-wing than lawyers on average. That is unsurprising, but assuming it is replicated in the UK, it is a timely reminder of the likely personal political preferences of those involved in the compensation culture debate.

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One regulator, different regulatory principles, any professions?

The Legal Service Board’s recent regulatory vision document sees the Board seeking to abolish itself. It wants to replace an array of approved regulators with varied jurisdiction over differing reserved activities and forms of alternative business structure, with one regulator. It wants simpler regulatory objectives, with the possibility of ditching things like public legal education and diversity from the statutory mix; a risk-based approach to defining which activities are regulated rather than the historical mishmash of reserved legal activities; and, regulation which is not based on professional title. Whilst it is possible to envisage a future for professional organisations, the weakening of professional power may be significant. It also wants a process for working out how to ensure regulation of legal services is independent of both the professions and government, the extent to which consumer representation should be ensured or enshrined, and the precise structure of a single regulator covering the whole market.

On one level, this can be seen as completing the job started by Clementi. Shifting from the political compromise that was Clementi’s B+ model towards a bureaucratically neater, simpler and easier to justify model: easier to justify to anyone (I’d say) but the professions themselves. Although interestingly, in market terms – as the document acknowledges – it is the title, solicitor, barrister, which has the most recognition.

At the heart of the document, lies an interesting question: has more independent regulation, and a greater focus on innovation and liberalisation, led to greater access to justice, improved quality, and helped a legal system deliver more strongly on public interest concerns? The Legal Service Board’s own attempts to assess these questions are laudable but significantly incomplete. They do not really have the data to make the judgement and nor does anybody else.

The Board’s evaluation document (linked above) sets out these limitations reasonably clearly. Interestingly, while they point to evidence suggesting improvements in quality in the market, which they hope are engendered by the reforms, and while they associate – in a loose sense – some improvements in legal service markets with ABSs, they also find ABS are most influential in the personal injury market. They do not draw the link here with their evidence that where there were concerns about quality they were most pronounced in the personal injury market. That may be an ABS issue or it may be a person injury market issue associated with (say) the Jackson reforms. Is there a tendency to note possible positive associations the ABS but not the possible negative associations? Maybe, maybe not, but we are a long way from understanding whether innovation and liberalisation has had an impact on cost, quality and technicality.

In truth, the regulators generally, and the Legal Service Board as well, have proceeded with the limited budgets for research and other means of evidence collection and generation. Assessing risk and evaluating reform may be done somewhat better than it has been done in the past but we are a fairly long way from evidence-based policy. The high watermark was probably an attempt to collate evidence around will writing. Here, whilst the work was interesting, and built from a very low base, the evidence was also quite modest in nature. It floundered on the rocks of political judgements made by everybody’s favourite Lord Chancellor. Perhaps chastened by the experience, or simply less interested in research, original data on other issues has been less imaginatively or usefully generated.

The canny reader will suspect I am building towards self-interested plea for more research. I suppose I am, although not necessarily wholly or mainly the kind of research that legal academics typically do (more’s the pity, perhaps). But what I am really building towards is, I think, a key question for the reforms discussion. The tension between activity based and title-based regulation is likely to be acute. Threaten title-based regulation and you threaten the occupational status and power of the professions themselves. Equally, the case for activity-based regulation has persuasive appeal, especially if the regulatory maze that Clementi was supposed to tackle is genuinely addressed.

It is not, in theory at least, impossible to reconcile the tension by having one occupation, with licensing arrangements tailored to each of the specific activities (in fact – in a way – the existing professions do this already just separately). But my point is more basic, trying to decide what regulatory structure would really work and whether we should ditch regulation by title and build on regulation by activity, we should have a clearer view of what really works. The Legal Service Board’s own assessment of the reforms is, whilst very detailed, also very high level. It has no means of tying regulatory form and the objects of that form together. At bottom, we rely on a good deal of conjecture and ideology alongside a rather slim evidential base.

Still, it was ever thus, and we are where we are. Those who would like to debate the Legal Service Board’s proposals can do so at an event we are hosting with the Board on 14 November. You can book here.


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