updated on 20 September 2023
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Chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB), Matthew Hill, talked about diversity during a plenary session at the Law Society’s Junior Solicitors Network summit, stating that diversity at partnership level at the biggest law firms “ought to be a national scandal”.
Hill outlined various factors that are important for law firms to consider when improving diversity. Speaking on the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Hill said that the introduction of the new centralised assessments never claimed to “solve all the problems” straight away. Instead, Hill suggested there were “two bigger points” to consider: how to get people into the legal profession and to the point that’ll see them taking the SQE, and how to make becoming a lawyer universally attractive.
While entry to the profession is cited as an issue, Hill said that it’s “by no means the biggest issue”, as even when recruitment processes are diversified, it’s important to also think about the systems in place that aid or prohibit progression.
He highlighted that there are “acceptable working practices in law firms”, including strategy planning in a pub, that are “creating hidden barriers” for people from diverse backgrounds. Similarly, Hill said: “If you're the one landing a big juicy client because you happen to be part of that big network that not everyone has access to, that becomes a problem.”
Therefore, he’s urged the legal profession to make progression and promotions more transparent, and has called for a change to the way seniority is thought about. He added: “There is no accepted, sophisticated model of seniority in the legal profession. What you have is, ‘are you a partner?’ or ‘are you not a partner?’ It misses the wider richness of experience. So we cannot describe well what our profession looks like.”