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Discuss the barriers underrepresented groups face in developing a career in the legal profession, examine the case in favour of diversity, and critically evaluate the effectiveness of measures taken in the legal profession to promote diversity in England

Dissertation : Discuss the barriers underrepresented groups face in developing a career in the legal profession, examine the case in favour of diversity, and critically evaluate the effectiveness of measures taken in the legal profession to promote diversity in England. Recherche parmi 240 000+ dissertations

Par   •  24 Octobre 2016  •  Dissertation  •  1 911 Mots (8 Pages)  •  381 Vues

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The legal profession in England and Wales has long held a reputation for being dominated by people who are “heterosexual, white, middle-class and male” . In a society which is becoming increasingly diverse, the idea of the “heterosexual, white, middle-class and male” lawyer is more unrepresentative of society than ever before and as Lady Hale rightly states, “it is wrong for [the law] to be wielded by such an unrepresentative section of the population” . It is evident that the legal profession requires increased gender, ethnic and socio-economic diversity so as to become more representative of society. This essay will examine the barriers facing underrepresented groups in furthering their careers within the legal profession and look at measures taken to eliminate these barriers and increase diversity within law, with particular emphasis on the higher positions in law.

In 2010, diversity figures suggested that the legal profession was becoming more representative of the population with regards to gender and ethnic equality: women made up 59.1% of newly qualified solicitors and 22.1% of newly qualified solicitors were black or minority ethnic (BME). This is compared to 25% of women in 1978 and 13% of BME solicitors in 1999 . However this data also showed that there was an extreme lack of diversity in the senior positions of the profession. In the latest available diversity statistics published by the Solicitor’s Regulation December Authority in 2014 , this remains the case as women make up 59% of solicitors and barristers however only 31% occupy a senior role. The percentage of BME lawyers comprise 22% of the profession while only 11% of those occupy senior roles. These statistics show that it remains incredibly difficult for the underrepresented groups to break into the “heterosexual, white, middle-class and male” controlled positions in the legal profession which can only be due to the barriers they face while trying to develop their career.

Research by the Legal Services Board has identified that barriers start to exist at a very early stage for those seeking to pursue a legal career, highlighting the socio-economic status of people as a barrier to development. Rolfe and Anderson found that law firms developed stronger links with independent schools, compared to comprehensive schools, due to the fact they had trainees that had attended those schools and wanted to increase awareness of their brand within the school. This automatically gave children from higher socio-economic groups an “in-built advantage” due to the links that existed between their school and legal firms. These links have gone on to exist in the same manner between universities and law firms with sections of society being filtered out due to the preference of employers for graduates of Russell Group universities. “Research also indicates that white graduates from higher socio-economic groups are over-represented in large City firms [who have a strong relationship with Russell Group universities] while BME women from lower socio-economic groups are concentrated in small high street practices. " This demonstrates that the socio-economic status of people has a major impact with regards to developing one’s career with those in a lower socio-economic group lacking the resources and links that those from a higher socio-economic group benefit from which aids to further careers.

Another barrier facing the underrepresented groups is the culture of the profession, in particular, professional relationships and networking. The domination of the profession by white, middle-class male lawyers increases the difficulty of progression for women and BME lawyers and has been cited as “the major obstacle to diversity” as the informal culture of the profession is suited to the white male. This is exemplified through the use of “informal mentoring” where the senior figures “tended to foster the careers of young white men” . The respondents of a study into diversity have said that career progression depended on self-promotion to powerful figures and networking within the organisation which was easier for white males and that networking outside the firm, which is considered to be equally important, was just as hard as it “generally involved engaging in predominantly male activities which were also numerically dominated by white men.” Also deeply ingrained within the profession is the idea of “presenteeism” where a gender dimension emerges. Family commitments lead to women requiring more flexibility in their careers however a survey conducted by the Association of Women Solicitors found that 50% of women believed that taking up flexible working would be detrimental to their careers as they would be considered as less serious with 44% saying that flexible working has a negative impact on promotion aspects . Despite the slowly increasing diversification of the legal profession, the culture of informal networking and lack of flexible working prevents gender and ethnic groups from becoming “authentic members of the profession” and as a result damages ambitions for promotion. “There are still far too many systemic barriers to recognising the merit that so many people have, because of the strange ways in which people define merit; something to do with the way in which commitment is defined; and something to do with the culture which depends upon personal relationships and informal networks.”

There have been measures put in place to attempt to overcome and eliminate these barriers for underrepresented groups with one such measure being the creation of the Legal Services Board. Diversity in the legal profession has been closely monitored by the Legal Services Board since its introduction in 2007 as part of the Legal Services Act 2007 , where one of its regulatory objectives was to “encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession” . The Board implemented a measure requiring the collection of data on workforce diversity and the publication of that data by the legal profession. This is the only direct regulatory intervention to date taken with regard to diversity in the legal profession. However, this needs to be more transparent with regards to promotion of diversity within the higher position of the legal profession. Quantitative data can only show a narrow view into diversity in the legal profession. Requiring quantitative data would allow the LSB to gain a better understanding of diversity, through analysing the context and commentary of the results that are published. Another proposal that could “encourage a […] diverse profession ” would be the publication of recruitment, retention and promotion statistics. This would help address the lack of diversity in powerful positions and help the LSB fulfil their regulatory obligation.

Schemes have also been put in place to promote the diversification

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