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.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.