UK law firms face compulsory diversity reporting

Statutory guidance published two weeks ago by the Legal Services Board, which oversees the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales, will require law firms and barristers’ chamabers to reveal information about the diversity and socioeconomic background of their staff.

In general, the legal profession does not have a high reputation for diversity, especially at senior levels. The LSB hopes that imbalances will be addressed by insisting on openness and transparency.

Firms have until early 2012 to explain how they will implement the guidance, and until December 2012 to publish data on their websites. The board will collate this information and present a picture of the legal profession in the UK as a whole.

Staff will be invited to complete voluntary questionnaires on disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and their socioeconomic backgrounds, although religion and sexual orientation will not be subject to public disclosure to protect individuals’ right to privacy.

There are already signs that the UK’s biggest firms are not simply paying lip service to the new rules.

Linklaters has become one of the first prominent UK law firms to publish comprehensive diversity data on its website, just days after the LSB’s announcement.

At Ashurst, Deborah Dalgleish has been appointed as the firm’s dedicated head of diversity. She was head of diversity and inclusion at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where she was an outspoken advocate for greater diversity in the legal profession.

In a recent article in The Lawyer magazine, Dalgleish said: “The legal sector suffers from some of the lowest levels of intergenerational social mobility, so this is a particularly pressing issue for the sector to address. All the evidence shows that greater diversity delivers more creativity and innovation, so for firms anything that can help ensure they identify all possible sources of talent is strategically important.”

Herbert Smith has named David Smith as its global head of diversity and inclusion. As director of workplace programmes at Stonewall, the gay lobbying group, Shields was responsible for launching the annual workplace equality index, now a key benchmark for measuring gay-friendly employers.

The new LSB reporting rules are in line with requirements for FTSE companies to meet gender diversity targets and for recruitment companies to present diverse shortlists. Disclosure and transparency have proven to be effective agents for change, and the new rules should be welcomed.

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