Diversity in today’s world is one of the most exhausted words which has a relatively simple meaning yet it can be a world of a difference to implement it. The diversity of the legal profession has been the subject of debate for a while. Guardian (2015) states that ‘Despite recent initiatives, the legal profession remains a bastion of white, middle-class, privately educated males.’ This remains true even today, although they have been changes, compared to a decade ago when it was mostly ‘white, middle-class’ males. Dr. Sterling conducted an experiment to see if the 1,400 attorneys can land a position at prestigious law firms after being unemployed in the wake of the 2008-09 recession in the U.S. The experiment showed that majority of white lawyers were offered or landed a position in a law firm while the black attorneys were left behind as they were not given enough support or the opportunity to connect in their firms. This essay is going to argue how the legal community can still be considered as a ‘white collared profession’ who are not taking the necessary actions to increase and promote diversity.
Class and Education
The class and education seem to play quite an important factor in the legal profession to assess whether someone is capable or fit enough to become part of a Chamber or to be called to the Bar. The legal profession used to be, or still is a ‘club exclusive for white, middle-class men’. Looking at the statistics from Sutton Trust, 70 per cent of the judges, 55 per cent solicitors and 68 per cent barristers attended an independent school. Around 82 per cent Barristers and 53 per cent Solicitors were Oxbridge educated. Those are really high numbers. Lawyers a few decades ago predominantly used to come from wealthy and influential backgrounds (Abel, 1988). Taking Middle Temple as an example, in 1977 there were only 14 per cent admissions from a working-class background whereas a whopping 82 per cent articled clerks came from high socio-economic backgrounds. Candidates who come from families with qualifications of the higher institution had a greater chance of obtaining a contract or training pupillage. In a way, the class is one of the biggest obstacles within the legal profession.
The discrimination on the grounds of class remains up to this date. Candidates are subjected to selection criteria where the likelihood of obtaining pupillage or a training contract is dependent on whether someone has graduated from an elite school rather than your academic results and experiences. Diversity is vital especially when it comes to the law profession. It cannot be expected from judges who come from the high social and economic background with similar education to understand and address issues like poverty, the inequality in healthcare and education in which the high class has none or minimal understanding. It is not justifiable to assume that law firms or chambers would apprehend the concept of being poor or what it means to be oppressed when they’ve probably never had to think about it. This is where diversity kicks in and why it is an integral part of the legal profession.
There are more alarming figures that suggest how the legal profession has a specific requirement when it comes to educational background. According to an analysis given by the Sutton Trust in 2015, showed that around 71 per cent judges were privately educated. Moreover, 74 per cent of senior judges, 78 per cent of the top QCs and 55 per cent of the solicitor partners from elite Magic Circle firms have graduated from Oxford or Cambridge University. This suggests that there is a specific educational background that the profession prefers. There is still the notion that you have to graduate from a particular college or university to be accepted by the elite institutes. Why must one work harder than the other to be recognised and be treated equally as their counterpart? Once this segregation is created, they are robbed of opportunities to create a career for themselves.
The statistics mentioned above, personally are worrying as it shows the perception of an elite institution that seems to dispense their loyalty and consideration to a particular group of people, coming from a specific economic background. Bar Standard Board reveals that in 2017-18, amongst 1,351 candidates, 741 applicants were from the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic group (BAME) whereas 586 applicants were white. When candidates from BAME background graduated BPTC, it accounted for 55 per cent but only 16 per cent were taken as pupil barristers. Now, looking at the figures it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that the Bar is not serving modern society or addressing diversity. The Bar is an important aspect for anyone wishing to practice in the UK but the lack of diversity, biased views and perception seems to be a popular notion. This creates an issue as the voices of the ethnic minority groups are likely to be drowned.
Gender: Is it still just a man’s world?
The legal profession is still male-dominated and is reluctant to grasp the concept of gender equality. The notion of gender inclusion gave women a place in the legal field, although not to the same extent as men. Starting from the Supreme Court itself when it was first established on 1st October 2009, up until now, there have been 26 Lord/Lady Justices. Amongst the 26 members, 3 of them are females with none from the ethnic minority group. According to the Solicitors Regulators Authority (SRA), in 2017, 59 per cent of women were non-partner solicitors compared to only 33 per cent partners. Taking Bar Standard Board statistics, in the same year, only 6,022 women were practising Bar compared to 10,380 males. There are signs of progress but not that noticeable in numbers. Baroness Hale said ‘It is obvious that we still have a long way to go with women in the law both in the profession and judiciary… the momentum is with us; the force is with us… People are now recognising equality issues that were not recognised before’. She predicts that gender parity should hopefully be achieved by 2033.
Encourage and support the future of the legal profession
There are many ways to tackle the issue of diversity like implementing more initiatives that take into account a prospective employee’s determination to achieve and fulfill his/her potential. Mentoring workshops, seminars and present the candidates with a more diverse route (i.e. Apprenticeship) rather than the traditional one might give people from different backgrounds a chance to show their potential. Every individual comes from different backgrounds and each human experience will differ. Giving someone legal aid and advice must be well rounded to accommodate different people and their needs. Clients want a broad perspective. The more reflective the firm is of the client base, the more positive effect it will have on the clients who will not hesitate in establishing a relationship of trust and confidence. This will likely suggest the client that the firm is committed to diversity and that it is likely that there will be empathy with all their legal matters.’
Lady Justice Hallett, one of the most senior female judges of the UK points out that the level of student debt jeopardises the initiative taken in improving diversity issues within the judiciary system. She suggests that awarding barristers’ training grants to a student who comes from a less privileged background might be the way forward ‘We were doing so well. Entry to the profession had gone to 50% (female) but I get really worried about social mobility when I look at the cost with which people leave university or further education’. Taking the financial aspect into account, as Hallett suggested, scholarship or grant should be introduced as well. The BPTC itself costs around £20,000 and LPC is somewhere along those lines as well. If we were to address the expenses of the Bar courses, there should be a motion that supports students not having to pay for BPTC unless they obtain a pupillage offer. It might seem ludicrous to suggest that but if we were to link BPTC places to the number of pupillages, it is quite clear that a lot of students are forking out thousands of pounds on the fickle recruitment process as well as the limited capacity of the pupillage.
Recently an initiative has been put forward as an attempt to bridge a gap between BAME lawyers and the judiciary system. Pre-Application Judicial Education was launched earlier this year in April 2019 with the idea to be able to support lawyers from underrepresented groups to feel more confident and well equipped. This programme will prepare the candidate if they are considering applying for a judicial role in the future. This was a joint enterprise of the Judicial Diversity Forum which consists of Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Judicial Appointments Commission, The Bar Council, The Law Society of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. This enterprise was undertaken to attract applicants, although open to everyone but aimed mostly at lawyers from BAME background, in an attempt to diversify the judiciary system.
To start promoting diversity, the precedence should first be set by the Supreme Court itself. At the moment the Supreme Court consists of 12 Lord/Lady Justices but there is no concrete evidence set by the institute that supports racial, class or gender diversity. It does not reflect the institute’s intention to support racial, class or gender diversity considering the fact that out of 12 justice, only 3 of them are female and none come from ethnic minority groups. The lack of diversity is apparent but not acknowledged enough to put forward motions and initiatives to solve the problem. Once the problem is acknowledged, the next step is to move towards finding a practical solution as mentioned above and putting it in action. So, coming back to the statement provided by Guardian, the argument stated above proves that the statement remains true even today despite the recent initiatives.