The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published a qualitative study on the experiences of 30 legal professionals from underrepresented groups trying to get into, feel part of, and succeed in the legal profession.
While not designed to be statistically representative, the sample included a mix of gender identities, sexualities, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds, presence of health conditions, neurodiversity and disabilities.
The testimonies in the study give voice to existing evidence of inequality and inequity in the profession and suggest there may be features, traditions and practices particular to the legal services sector that may hamper efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive profession.
- Legal professionals in the study told us about a culture of working long hours to achieve certain billable hours, which might exclude some groups
- Needing to be perceived as the ‘right’ sort of person clients will expect to work with
- A lack of access to HR resources in some chambers or smaller firms
- Lack of flexibility in working practices and working in outdated and inaccessible physical environments.
The lawyers also shared stories of unethical and, in some cases, illegal workplace practices that created barriers to a successful career in the law, such as:
- Less prestigious universities being left off drop-down lists on application portals, leaving applicants unable to demonstrate their higher education achievements
- Expectation to show a record of unpaid work experience despite working while studying or having caring responsibilities
- Denying flexible working requests that would help lawyers to manage health conditions or requiring them to take annual leave to attend medical appointments
- Lack of transparent policies and processes around pay, work allocation and progression
- Failure in certain circumstances to make reasonable adjustments in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, to ensure physical workplaces are accessible.
The practices cited showed examples of systemic barriers that require a change of mindset and culture across the profession as well as practices and policies that support inclusion.
Participants shared how these practices have impacted their wellbeing, productivity at work, career development, and ultimately their ability to deliver the best outcomes for their clients, reflecting negatively on the profession as a whole.
Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the LSB, said:
‘We are committed to ensuring that regulation plays the fullest role possible in ensuring all legal professionals can thrive in their careers regardless of their background. The insights provided by this study highlight enormous opportunities to make things better by changing the way the sector does business. We hope anyone serious about inclusion in the legal services sector will use the research to tackle the barriers that lawyers face every day.’
The research will inform the LSB’s policy activity on equality, diversity and inclusion, and we will consult on a policy statement later this year to provide clear, updated expectations that aim to maximise the impact of regulation in creating a more diverse legal sector.
The research is available at: https://legalservicesboard.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/The-lived-experiences-of-legal-professionals.pdf