This conference considered the way forward for improving diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, including embedding good practice and a range of policy options.
The seminar was timed as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) launched the next stage of reporting for diversity data in the legal sector, which looked at age, gender, ethnicity, education and sexual orientation and covered over 70% of solicitors who hold a practising certificate. Delegates considered how best to collate, analyse and use this data effectively to improve diversity in the sector.
It also came as the Legal Services Board publishing their assessment of the progress by regulators on diversity - which found improvement against criteria such diversity analysis, collaboration with stakeholders and regulatory development, but identified several areas where more is needed, such as internal progression and representation of certain groups. Delegates discussed the role of the regulators and how they monitor the progress of law firms in these areas - as well as current progress in the sector.
Delegates looked at the potential impact on diversity and widening access to the profession of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), scheduled for implementation in Autumn 2021, and how it should be implemented. There was discussion on the cost of training and the role of policies such as law apprenticeships and ‘earn as you learn’ schemes.
The agenda brought out latest thinking on preventing harassment and bullying in the workplace - with LawCare receiving its highest ever number of helpline calls from lawyers in 2018 and the SRA publishing an updated Enforcement Strategy and proposed changes to the rules regarding when firms should report cases of potential misconduct following concerns over the use of NDAs.
Further sessions focused on the workplace culture in the legal sector and how law firms can provide better mental health support and improve staff well-being, as well as the impact of legal technology on flexibility and working practices.
The conference was also scheduled to follow the publication of the initial phase of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter and the research by the Bar Standards Board into pupillage recruitment practices.
Delegates discussed practical approaches to supporting diversity such as reviewing interview practice, undertaking unconscious bias training and implementing blind CVs, as well as sharing best practice in attracting talent and building inclusivity.
Following calls from the President of the Supreme Court to improve diversity in the judiciary, there was also discussion on the current state of judicial appointments, progress following the Lammy Review which recommended reforms to the Judicial Appointments Committee, and the initial results of policies such as the recently launched Pre-Application Judicial Education (PAJE) programme.