Only 90 of 13,000 partners at England and Wales law firms are Black – report

Just 90 of more than 13,000 partners at major law firms in England and Wales are Black, according to a report, which says more must be done to address the underrepresentation.

The 1% Study, named after the approximate proportion of black partners at solicitors’ firms with 10 plus partners, says the sector could learn from efforts in other industries to attract, retain, develop, and progress diverse talent to senior levels.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, who carried out a landmark review into racism in the criminal justice system, writes in the foreword: “The fact that only 1% of partners at major law firms in the UK are black highlights the importance and urgency with which barriers to progression, including those specific to race and ethnicity, need to be addressed by the legal profession.

“This figure lags significantly behind the black population in the UK. In recent years issues of racial inequity have been thrust into the spotlight. We must seize this momentum to drive positive societal change. Improving representation in the legal profession will enable the sector to benefit from the brilliance of difference, leveraging the rich and diverse tapestry of cultures and ethnicities that make up our national identity; and better reflect the global client base that the legal sector serves.”

Black people constitute 3.3% of the population of England and Wales. Asians make up 7.5%, but there are nearly five times more partners who are Asian than Black, the report by extense, a specialist legal sector inclusion consultancy, says.

For the 21-month study, endorsed by the Law Society and the Black Solicitors Network and sponsored by major law firms, the consultancy interviewed 65 Black partners at major firms. Themes that emerged included feeling “outsider” status, not having access to the same networks as their white peers and receiving less high-quality work and harsher scrutiny than them, as well as pressure to assimilate.

The report identifies five key actions it says law firms are not currently taking: tying executive compensation to diversity and inclusion outcomes, training for supervisors in managing diverse teams, support for the “nuanced needs and talents acutely faced by Black talent”, sponsorship programmes to target underrepresented talent and delegating work and career development opportunities equitably, including through use of algorithmic technology.

Julian Richard, managing director of extense, said: “Black representation has remained relatively stagnant for several years and worryingly low at the partnership level. Our actions lay a path for accelerating the retention and progression of Black talent to senior levels. We encourage firms to be bold with this necessary step-change.”

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Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent