LSB report targets diversity in legal profession

Diversity proposals aimed to combat stereotyping and bias in the legal profession were launched yesterday in a report funded by the Legal Services Board.

Disclosure, training and support lay at the core of the recommendations contained in the report to fight against cultural practices, which indirectly discriminate.

Professor Andrew Boon, dean of the School of Law at the University of Westminster where the report was launched, said: “The advantage of this research is the human focus; it assists understanding of what different social groups face and how they react.”

“The inclusion of some concrete proposals for ways forward, building on some of the good work already taking placing in the legal profession is a real bonus.”

Despite increasing advances towards greater openness and diversity, the report found the profession to remain ‘inherently masculine’ in its working patterns and general culture.

A prism of negative cultural stereotypes and a legacy of the profession’s white, male elitist origins were also exemplified in the data analysis.

A white equity partner in a medium sized High Street firm said: ‘[I]t’s still very much dominated at the top end by white, middle aged men. And as they die out they will be replaced by younger traditional white middle class men. Partly law encourages conservative, with a small ‘c’ people – there’s a large chunk of it that’s very traditional and that encourages a certain sort of person and so its very male cultural norms persist.‟

The report explored the options and strategies respondents used to fight against the perceived discrimination such as compromising, conforming and fitting in with the daily rhythms of practices.

Others included using diversity as an advantage by showcasing oneself to the powerful people or people acting as institutional entrepreneurs and working to change the system from the inside.

The report’s recommendations encouraged supporting outreach programmes, offering more financial aid and publishing aggregated diversity data as well as delivering formal mentoring and more flexible working patterns.

The data analysis was pulled from interviews with 77 lawyers, would-be lawyers and former lawyers, along with a very small group of other legal professionals.