Report: Diversity in the Legal Profession (England and Wales)

DIVERSITY IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN ENGLAND AND WALES: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF BARRIERS AND INDIVIDUAL CHOICES

Funded by the Legal Services Board

Prof. Hilary Sommerlad University of Leicester Dr. Lisa Webley University of Westminster Liz Duff University of Westminster Dr. Daniel Muzio University of Leeds Dr. Jennifer Tomlinson University of Leeds With assistance with the professional press and literature from Richard Parnham University of Westminster

From the report: Statistics demonstrate that the profession is segmented and stratified on gendered, raced and classed lines, suggesting that the opportunities available to young lawyers are not equally distributed. An extensive body of academic and policy based literature underlines the statistical picture of persistent structural inequalities within the profession across a range of indicators, from pay to status; in addition there is some evidence to suggest that women and BME lawyers leave the profession in disproportionately high numbers. Research also indicates that white graduates from higher socio-economic groups are over-represented in large City firms and at the Bar, while BME women from lower socio-economic groups are concentrated in small High Street practices.

However, despite this strong evidence of inequalities in terms, conditions and rewards associated with gender, race and ethnicity and, especially, the interaction between these different forms of identity, there is less consensus about their causes. Different career trajectories may have been the result of individual choices, such as a desire to undertake legal aid work, or personal circumstances, or the availability of opportunities in an individual‟s first choice field, or a combination of these factors. Insight into the ways in which these factors drive career paths, thereby fleshing out the picture of labour market segmentation revealed by the statistics, requires in depth exploration. The Legal Services Board (LSB) therefore commissioned the present qualitative study of female and BME professionals, at a variety of career stages including pre-entry, in a range of specialisms and sectors, and in several locations, to investigate the reasons for these practitioners‟ career patterns.

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