British law firms and barristers’ chambers have been threatened with the “nuclear” option of having quotas imposed, according to a recently released Diversity Legal Table report showing different approaches are required to improve the lot of women and ethnic minorities in British law firms and chambers.
Its annual Diversity Legal Table report also suggested different approaches may be needed to improve the retention of women and ethnic minority lawyers respectively.
The report found that “there are now relatively high levels of gender and ethnic minority representation at junior levels of the profession, but attrition is still very high as we move up the ladder”.
Only 12% of QCs and 27% of partners are women, despite the fact that 44% of pupils and 62% of trainees are also women. Only 5.5% of QCs and 8% of partners are from an ethnic minority background, compared to 20.5% of pupils and 23% of trainees.
The report questioned whether it is enough to wait for the economic incentives that would be expected to drive further increases in diversity – the “vast” investment in human capital that is lost when disillusioned women and ethnic minorities leave because they see no prospect of elevation to the top jobs – to do their work and lead to a significant increase in the representation of women and ethnic minorities at the top of the profession.
“Key here is the word ‘significant’,” the report concluded. “The economic drivers we have identified in the Diversity League Table have been working for a number of years now and progress continues to be painfully slow (that is, insignificant). It would seem that, at present, the economic drivers are not doing their job.”
The report referred to an OECD global forum on women’s leadership in public life earlier this year, at which there were mixed views on quotas. “But while all recognised the problems associated with their introduction, the suggestion was that they work.
“While the economic fundamentals are working in the right direction, the present pace of change seems unacceptable. Firms and chambers need to act now, as there is an increasing willingness to consider the ‘nuclear’ option of quotas.”