Happy New Year!
I’ve been looking into ethnic diversity in law firms, as the beginning of a new year has provided us with up-to-date statistics to evaluate 2014.
In order to make best sense of the figures, I’ll quickly run through the general structure of a law firm.
There are three levels of solicitors in a firm:
1) Partners – business directors and owners, most firms have a two tiered system: ‘equity partners’ have a stake in the firms profits, whereas ‘non-equity partners’ usually have a fixed salary. Also, non equity partners are likely to have more restricted voting rights about firm matters in comparison to equity partners.
2) Associates – Associates are more senior than assistant solicitors, but not as senior as partners. According to ‘legalcareers.about.com’, ‘The typical law firm lawyer works as an associate for six to nine years before ascending to the partnership ranks (“making partner”) (3).
3) Trainees – before fully qualifying as a solicitor, you work in several ‘seats’ in different practice areas as a trainee.
Law firms also tend to be identified with a certain ‘type’. I shall make use of those that Chambers takes up to best make sense of their survey.
Magic circle firms generally refer to the following ‘big five’ (3):
1- Allen & Overy
2- Clifford Chance
3- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
5- Slaughter and May
US firms are those based in the USA. Regional and national firms are those outside of the ‘City firms’; those based in London.
Chambers (1) have gathered data for ethnic diversity (henceforth BME data) at all three levels of practice, for all ‘types’ of firm.
So how do the percentages stack up?
Overall, only 5.1% of partners were BME. Although the average for BME trainees was 13.8%, it still doesn’t marry up to the number of BME law students.
Pleasingly, BME students made up ‘32% of those studying law at university in the UK in 2012-13’ (4) making Law one of the most ethnically diverse subjects to study at University level. Given that there is no reason to think otherwise, it is reasonable to extrapolate that figure to last years’ intake of law students. Yet still, these figures would suggest BME lawyers are under-represented, and more so as you transcend the levels of seniority within a firm.
Is this the picture for all types of firm?
Well, Magic Circle firms have the highest percentage of BME trainees, with almost a quarter (23.9%). Chambers reports that Regional/national firms had the lowest percentage of BME trainees at 8.8%.
But it is worth noting the limitations of these figures.
Law firms are not obligated to report their data: ‘confidentiality concerns’
provide a legitimate reason why this overall picture may not be representative. However, Chambers is pessimistic about the intentions of firms who didn’t respond. 27 firms did not submit data, and 86 did. (The full list can be found here:
On a more positive note, Clifford Chance and Linklaters were the UK leaders. Clifford Chance have 0.7% more BME trainees and 0.7% more associates however Linklaters have the highest percentage of BME partners at 11%.
Those responsive regional firms are currently less ethnically diverse, with 7 respondents have no ethnic minority partners. Yet evidently the ethnic diversity of the population surrounding the firm makes regional firms’ figures difficult to compare as opposed to evaluating those within the City. For example, Birmingham-based SCH Martineau has 16% BME partners: almost 50% more than Linklaters.
Overall, these statistics would suggest that ethnic minorities are yet to be sufficiently represented in the majority of law firms. However, with the highest percentage of BME Law students ever, we should look positively to the future of diversity in law firms.