The Law Society of Scotland has today, 26 January, published a report into racial inclusion within the Scottish legal profession, finding an increasingly diverse and progressive sector that wants to do more, but is hampered by slow progress, lack of visible minority role models and experiences of bias.
Alongside the report, the Law Society has issued an action plan to help address the issues and challenges raised in the report.
The report was produced by the Law Society’s Racial Inclusion Group, which was launched in January 2021 to better understand the lived and professional experiences of our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) members and future members. It achieved this through a comprehensive review of key data sources on inclusion in the profession; conducting research with BAME law students, trainees and solicitors through an online survey and one-to-one interviews; and speaking to other stakeholders in the justice sector about inclusion.
Key findings from the group’s report include:
- The trend of increased diversity entering the profession continues and is positive, but this is not reflected across all minority ethnic groups and an increased pace is required. Access to minority role models, mentoring networks and funding opportunities are key issues that need addressed in order to achieve more diversity throughout the profession.
- The lack of visible ethnic minority role models within the legal sector not only deters new ethnic minority entrants to the profession, but places an undue pressure and burden on existing ethnic minority members to act as mentors and representatives in addition to their legal careers.
- Employers want diverse talent, but struggle to attract it, with a gap between the number of ethnic minority law students and those applying successfully to the largest employers of trainees in Scotland, which collectively train a significant percentage of trainee solicitors. Initiatives, such as using contextualised recruitment and blind recruitment, have been shown to have a positive effect.
- A survey of members’ personal experiences was completed by around 20-25% of practising BAME members. It showed that more than 60% of all respondents have experienced bias, racism or discrimination on their route to qualification or during their careers. Of those that have experienced some form of bias, more than three-quarters said it was within the last two years, from overt acts, such as something someone said or did, to omissions, such as inconsiderate practices.
- Building a culture within the profession where everyone can thrive requires action from members, employers and stakeholders. The intersection between ethnicity bias and other biases, such as gender, sexual orientation, age etc, cannot be ignored. Failing at inclusion results in ethnic minority lawyers being placed under a pressure their white counterparts do not face. Employers that take steps towards inclusion in how they treat their staff, ensuring fairness in recruitment, pay, progression and work allocation, celebrating a wide range of cultural events, and openly acknowledging contemporary racism and confronting it, will see clear beneficial outcomes.
- Discussions around ethnicity targets should be encouraged to ensure that proportionate action is being taken to meet a legitimate aim and that it does not lead to personal or professional victimisation. Increasingly, large businesses are influencing the issue by setting targets for legal service providers.
The report includes 60 recommendations to help address the challenges reported and further inclusion within the Scottish legal profession.
Tatora Mukushi, a solicitor and convener of the Racial Inclusion Group, said: “We knew that we would encounter explanations for the limited success in achieving real inclusivity in the profession. Our own personal and professional experiences left us under no illusion that there were problems that were not recorded on the face of the data already collected and analysed.
“We have found a profession that is enthusiastic about innovation on this issue. Progressive voices at every level recognise the value of diversity. The opportunity to openly discuss the situation of ethnic minorities in Scotland, particularly over the last year, was warmly welcomed and reciprocally engaged with. Taking in the myriad views of stakeholders, their recognition of the present challenge and desire to continue regardless is reassuring. Doubtless these constructive and often difficult conversations will continue; indeed, they should.
“The structural disadvantages that ethnic minorities face throughout society often intersect with those based on class, sex and gender. It reinforces our proposition that inclusion is to be championed. The foundational work that the profession has carried out to enhance the inclusion of women has delivered a stronger sector and exhibits the truth that we were all disadvantaged by past failures. We make no bolder claim than that a decisive and determined profession can open their own narrative to achieve greater inclusion and better outcomes.
“Our hope is that this report makes it clear to the profession that our business thrives on meaningful inclusion, and to all else, that we intend to achieve it.”
Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The Racial Inclusion Group’s report and recommendations should be read by all in the profession. There is good news within the report, including that the diversification of the profession appears to be quickening, although not at senior levels yet. However, there are parts of the report that will shock and upset many members, particularly the personal experiences of ethnic minority members and the many indignities they face at work.
“That shock must turn to action for all in the justice sector, including ourselves at the Society. The group’s recommendations are excellent starting points, individually and as organisations, to begin to answer the question ‘what will we do to make change?’.
“We at the Law Society care passionately about the future of the profession and our action plan is our initial response - one we will add to, and report on, over time. This is not the end of our work, rather a statement of renewed intent with the acknowledgement that we will do more in the future.
“I thank the Racial Inclusion Group’s members for their deep commitment to inclusion in the profession and their hard work over many months to produce this report, as well as the many members who shared their experiences with us and brought the report to life.”
The Law Society’s response includes 24 action points to take forward to help address the challenges of inclusion. These cover six broad themes:
- Inspiring the next generation of ethnic minority solicitors.
- Using our data, and the insight of our members, to promote change across the profession and sector.
- Continuing to listen to our ethnic minority members and future members.
- Leading the profession to adopt inclusive recruitment and employment practices.
- Collaborating with justice sector partners to improve equality in the profession.
- Ensuring that we are and continue to be an inclusive professional body.