The legal profession needs more diversity

The call from the Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss MP last week at the Conservative Party Conference for more to be done to boost diversity in the legal profession and judiciary was encouraging to hear.

The Lord Chancellor's decision to put diversity high on the agenda reflects the Bar Council's priorities in representing barristers in England & Wales. We all want to see greater career progression for women and BAME lawyers and judges. The Bar and the judiciary need to reflect society at large. 

The Bar is making great efforts to promote diversity and retain talent across the Bar. Transformation will take time but we must respond to legitimate concern. I am encouraged by the fact that there are already a number of outstanding women who are making their contribution to the future of the profession including the leadership of several Bar Council committees and specialist bar associations. In addition, the Association of Women Barristers is an important voice in our profession.

The Bar is sometimes viewed as behind the times, especially when it comes to the make-up of the profession. However, in 2016, the Bar is led by women. Louisa Nye leads the Young Barristers' Committee, Lorinda Long, is Treasurer of the Bar Council and I am this year’s Chairman of the Bar.

We know there is a lot more to be done to ensure women at the Bar are represented at the senior end of the profession, which feeds into the judiciary, but we are on the right track.

The Lord Chancellor is already aware that at the Bar we have a number of initiatives underway, including several mentoring schemes. One of these is aimed at supporting women and ethnic minority barristers seeking to become QCs and members of the judiciary. We also recently launched a maternity mentoring scheme, open to fathers and mothers with children to help balance parenting with a flourishing career at Bar.

Other initiatives run by the Bar Council include: 

·         Equality & Diversity Help Line

·         Best practice guides for chambers and barristers on issues such as fair recruitment, workforce monitoring, family career breaks, flexible working and more

·         Equality & Diversity Training

·         Equality & Diversity Officers Network

·         A dedicated Equality & Diversity team at the Bar Council providing support to the profession.

Elsewhere at the Bar, there have been important initiatives specifically to make our profession more representative.  

Last year, the Bar Council produced a report – Momentum Measures, Creating a diverse profession. The report found that current trends suggest that with the present model of practice at the Bar a 50:50 gender balance among all practising barristers is unlikely ever to be achieved. Women are less likely to move from Call to practice and suffer from a higher attrition rate once in practice. The level of attrition is such that it would require a very long period of substantial imbalance in favour of women at Call to achieve a balance of women in practice. The modeling we used in the report suggests that given current attrition rates an approximate 60:40 split in favour of women being Called to the Bar would be required to establish gender equality in practice. This report has led us to increase our efforts to support women and to foster change.

The report was more positive in its conclusions on BAME representation in the profession. The findings suggest that the Bar is on course to achieve a 20:80 split between BAME and White British barristers in practice in the near future. The slightly greater attrition of BAME barristers is more than compensated for by their greater prevalence during the training stage for the Bar, known as pupillage.

There is clearly a blockage in the pipeline from the Bar to the judiciary and we are working closely with the Judicial Appointments Commission to encourage and support more barristers from a range of backgrounds to apply to join the judiciary.

 The legal profession, including the Bar, as the Lord Chancellor pointed out last week, must do more. But, the Bar has made considerable progress and is already committing much time to providing support where needed. I take the Lord Chancellor’s call for action as an offer to work with us in helping to shape tomorrow’s legal profession. Our ambition at the Bar continues to be aim towards being a profession of all, and for all.

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