Diversity, figures?

I support the idea that firms and chambers should be obliged to publish data on diversity as reported By Neil Rose, who notes.

The Legal Services Board (LSB), the body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales, is mulling over plans that would require law firms and chambers to compile and publish comprehensive diversity information about their staff . This would include the seven diversity strands – age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and working patterns – plus social mobility.

The LSB will have to be canny if it is to avoid firms gaming the system (outsourcing work to Inian offices should not count in the diversity statistics for instance) and it is to be hoped that a reference to working patterns will enable some indication of the types of work that different groups do.  That is because one allegation is that the profession looks diverse but is highly stratified – the ‘good’ work with the best prospects of partnership (for those who want it) generally goes to white, upper-middle males. Another problem is that data on specific problems with particular groups will have to rely on very small numbers.  Let’s suppose there is a problem with African-Caribbean men: the percentage one would expect in ‘good’ positions in a diverse profession is still pretty small.  Measuring it will be difficult.

Getting this right will be tricky.  There needs to be simplicity to aid comparison, but complexity to capture the real picture and avoid gaming.  There is a risk that attention on the sexy areas (ethnicity and gender) rather than areas which may be as or more important.  Research suggests class may be the predominant factor, a picture supported by my own experience in practice and with students.  It remains to be seen how well any system can monitor this.  Furthermore, headline figures can mislead: women dominate the student body and (so) do well on entry into the profession, but not as well as they would and perhaps should expect.  If data on individuals had to be collated (anonymously) and could analysed then these masked effects could be exposed.  It will be interesting to see if the LSB proposals head in that direction.

A final problem is that professional recruitment is only part of the problem.  Research on solicitors and the Bar has tended to suggest the importance of schooling and University type.  Diversity in University intake is likely to be very important.  Whether the LSB’s writ runs that far is open to doubt, but they could require data be published on the proportion of Oxbridge graduates recruited and the proportion of recuits who went to a fee paying school.

It remains o be seen whether such information would impact on recruitment behaviour.  I suspect it would, but at the margins rather than fundamentally and it must be rememebered that some, but not all, of the profession’s problems with diversity reflect profound structural problems within education.  This should not be used asn an excuse for inaction but it should be recognised that changing the profession’s behaviour is only part of the solution.

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