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Law Society launches new equality standards and equal pay guidance

16 February 2015 | tagged News release

The Law Society of Scotland has published new equality standards for the legal profession along with a guide on carrying out an equal pay audit.

The new standards and guide for law firms and other organisations employing solicitors follows publication of the Law Society’s third three-year equality strategy in December.

The standards, which are currently voluntary for firms and organisations, include:

  • having a named ‘equality lead’ at law firms and within in-house legal teams
  • publishing an equality strategy with measurable objectives
  • equality and diversity training
  • reporting on the equality strategy and protected characteristics
  • producing a statement on equal pay and gender pay gap figures for organisations with more than 150 employees
  • providing information on accessibility options for disabled people and other service users.

Janet Hood, convener of the Law Society’s Equality and Diversity Committee, said: “We have made great progress in improving equality and diversity within the legal profession in the past decade, however there is still a need for the Society and solicitors to be more proactive in driving change and the new voluntary standards focus on key areas where we have seen little progress.Unfortunately, after 45 years of equal pay legislation and 10 years of Law Society guidance, there is still a pay gender pay gap of up to 42% visible in the profession. As a sector we cannot ignore that.

“Employers already have legal responsibilities in relation to equality and we hope these standards clarify the key issues for the legal sector. We also think it will bring benefits for firms as they will not only be viewed as being equality leaders by their clients, but also by their employees and as an organisation can attract and retain talented individuals.

“The latest research we carried out also showed strong support for the development of a more prescriptive set of standards to compliment the guides on equality we have already published. We will continue to provide information and support which will enable employers to reflect on the issue and what factors might be at play in their businesses. We also want to empower individuals with information about equal pay in their workplace.  It is hard to provide assurance on equal pay without some form of audit, so we made the decision to provide specific guidance on how firms can do this.

“We are also delighted that the current Scottish Government tender exercise for legal services includes mention of the framework in Continuous Improvement section of the Statement of Requirement. We hope other bodies, especially in the public sector, will help in promoting this framework and encouraging equality and diversity in the legal services sector.”

The Law Society’s new equality standards are currently voluntary but may move to the more formal status of guidance, which is considered when a complaint is made, in the next year. They will also be reviewed after three years and consideration given to whether they should become a rule.

Neil Stevenson, the Law Society’s Director of Representations and Professional Support, said: “We have seen enormous progress in the profession in relation to equality, however the Society needs to be aware of its duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 and where we have not seen improvement over the last 10 years we need to act.

“We hope that further voluntary clarification will assist solicitors and we are keen to get feedback from organisations about how this will work in practice.  Firms that adopt early will also have the advantage of being well prepared when these requirements become more formal.” 

In the past decade the Society has carried out three profession-wide surveys with a response of around 3000 each time. Detailed focus groups, and the examination of other professions and jurisdictions, also form part of the evidence base. The Society has also participated in joint research, including with the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, and other justice bodies around access to legal services. 

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