Diversity at top firms: 2005 promotions round shows rise in ethnic minority appointments

City firms have stepped up their promotion of ethnic minority partners, a Gazette survey has revealed this week - as the Black Solicitors' Network (BSN) disclosed its intention to set up a diversity league table as an 'acid test' for these practices.

The survey of the top 15 law firms found that 7.2% of new partners appointed in the UK in this year's round of promotions were from ethnic minorities. The Law Society's most recent estimate for the overall percentage of ethnic minority solicitors in the profession is 7.9%.

The survey also revealed that 30.6% of new partners appointed at the firms this year were women. Law Society figures show that women hold 39.7% of practising certificates. Norton Rose, Slaughter and May, Allen & Overy, and DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary appointed the highest percentage of ethnic minority partners this year.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer meanwhile appointed the highest proportion of women partners, with three out of five in London, while women made up a third of partner appointments at Lovells, Slaughters and CMS Cameron McKenna.

BSN chairwoman Yvonne Brown said: 'These figures bode well. But black lawyers have been disadvantaged and overlooked over years, so firms would need to be appointing more than the percentage of ethnic minority lawyers in the current population to redress the balance.'

Ms Brown said the BSN had already begun approaching City firms with a view to compiling a diversity league table. This would provide detailed information on the ethnic breakdown of lawyers at all levels within each firm. It will be compiled over the summer, with the results in January next year.

She added: 'The acid test for firms will be whether they participate, and show they are genuine in terms of seeking to improve diversity. Firms will be applauded if they have above-average statistics. But where they are under-performing, we will want to ask questions as to why.'

Caroline Herbert, chairwoman of the Law Society's equality and diversity committee, said: 'We are delighted that the numbers are increasing, but there is more work to be done. Almost a generation of good black solicitors has been lost because firms did not address this issue sooner.'

Alison Parkinson, Law Society Council member for the Association of Women Solicitors, added: 'The figures sound like good news. But I hope these are equity partner appointments and not just window dressing.'

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