Diversity and equity have increasingly become focus points for organisations across sectors, with the Legal profession being no exception. Yet, the specialism still faces criticism for slow adoption rates and less than favourable statistics. Over half of all UK barristers are white men according to statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (Ministry of Justice: Official Statistics 2023), with minority ethnic backgrounds making up only 18% of UK lawyers and disabled lawyers only 5% (SRA: How diverse is the solicitors’ profession?). These numbers become even more extreme when the seniority gap between genders is considered.
The first of a new ‘IDEX Insights’ series, takes a closer look at equity, diversity and inclusion in the Legal profession. Founder and CEO of IDEX, Matt Green spoke to Rupa Mooker, Director of People and Development at Scottish law firm Morton Fraser MacRoberts LLP on her thoughts on how firms can practically embed inclusive practices, as well as what steps Morton Fraser MacRoberts have taken.
What barriers do Legal professionals face?
According to the report, the three main barriers are the cost of training, a lack of role models and an epidemic of both conscious and unconscious biases across the sector. While initiatives such as Australia’s Step up to the bar programme exist to address the challenges of training costs for specific communities, in the UK these are few and far between.
A lack of role models effectively advertises a closed door policy for young people considering a career in Legal. This needs to be addressed if the Legal profession wants to widen its talent pool and showcase itself as a viable pathway, to talent across demographics. What’s more, “Law firms need to look like the people they’re representing” says Rupa. Diverse people offer diverse perspectives, guaranteeing a better service to clients and ultimately, better outcomes for the firm.
Conscious and unconscious biases continue to hinder progress as firms express microaggressions based on ethnicity, gender and physical ability. Famously, a lack of understanding of cultural differences alongside rejection of ‘non-western’ names (especially in the hiring process) is a primary way existing diverse talent has been alienated, and prospective talent put off entirely. In one study, “almost all participants had experienced some level of microaggression based on their ethnicity, such as ‘othering’ (pointing out, scrutinising or mocking cultural differences in the form of ‘banter’ or jibes), misidentification such as confusion over non-western names and being mistaken for someone less senior, and cultural assumptions and exclusions” (The Law Society: Race for inclusion).
So what does Rupa recommend and what steps have Morton Fraser MacRoberts taken to combat this?
Auditing the hiring process
Discussing how her own work approached the issue, Rupa mentions, “we partnered with an organisation from a disability perspective. They audited our website and every single process, going through various scenarios an individual might experience – it helped us identify some surprising elements that were simple to fix”. Working with an external organisation that specialises in equity, diversity and inclusion is a fantastic way for firms to make progress. Yet, according to the CIPD, “less than a fifth make efforts to remove bias through testing the words of job adverts (18%) or checking that tests are valid, reliable and objective (17%)” (CIPD: Inclusive recruitment: Guide for employers).
The nature of unconscious bias means it’s often impossible for law firms and in-house functions to properly assess the length and breadth of their recruitment process. On top of that for particularly busy firms, this may not be realistic in terms of the time such an undertaking demands. This is where using external professionals and companies that specialise in practically implementing diversity, equity and inclusion across a business can be a great option.
Access the report
IDEX Insights explores how Law firms can practically embed equity and inclusion, and how they can optimise the recruitment process to subsequently retain diverse Legal talent. Our in-depth interview with Rupa Mooker is framed with recent insights on the legal market, as well as incorporating several practical ways firms can implement change across the business.
For up-to-date advice, recent statistics and access to the full interview, find the report here. Looking for advice with your hiring strategy, or insights on new opportunities for professionals? Contact one of our specialist Legal consultants.