Published today, the new strategy builds on the work of the Society’s equality and diversity work over the past decade and responds to feedback from solicitors on equality issues affecting their careers, including entry to the legal profession and as they progress up the career ladder.
Janet Hood, convener of the Law Society’s equality and diversity committee, said: “It’s important that the legal profession leads on equality work like this, not just for those who work in the legal sector but for all those they represent and advise.
“The Law Society’s equality work has generated huge interest and more responses than any other area of research and it is clear that it is an important issue for the profession.
“The message from solicitors is that they want the Society to support them and to make improvements to ensure fair access to the profession and in pay and progression as they move through their careers.”
After a decade of research and supportive guidance across a whole range of equality issues this strategy focuses work on themes where little change has been seen.
This includes equal pay, where there is still a pay gender pay gap of up to 42 per cent visible in the profession, issues around progression and work patterns, including the impact of maternity leave on both the time to, and chances of, making partner, and issues relating to the accessibility of law firms to clients with a range of impairments.
A key focus over the three years will be a new equal pay framework and the launch of more specific advice on 10 key equality standards firms and employers may wish to achieve, which will become formal guidance next year.
At the end of the three-year period the Society will review whether the voluntary approach is working, or whether rule changes should be made.
Ms Hood said: “We have made great progress in improving equality and diversity within the legal profession in recent years, however there is still a need for the Society and solicitors to be more proactive in driving change.
“The profession is increasingly youthful, with 56 per cent of solicitors under the age of 45. More women than ever are choosing to become solicitors, with an almost equal split between the genders overall at 51 per cent men and 49 per cent women, however 69 per cent of female solicitors are under 45, so it is essential for us to continue to address equality issues to ensure that both men and women who can and want to progress in their legal careers, can do so.
“We intend to promote the business benefits of new thinking on work patterns and address issues concerning career progression for solicitors who have important commitments outside work, including parents and, increasingly, carers and also those who want to be able to pursue other ambitions as well as their legal career.
“Having strong equality standards brings real business benefits and helps employers attract and retain talented people. It’s widely recognised that an inclusive workplace can help increase commitment and levels of motivation among staff, boost productivity and innovation and, as a result, benefit clients and the business overall.”
To access the Equality and Diversity Strategy, click here.