The identity politics ‘industry’ can be shrill and irritating, but surely the SRA is right to find out how the profession is comprised.
I have a low exasperation threshold when exposed to the pious humbuggery that so often attends equality and diversity initiatives. That threshold was crossed last week when a CILEx press release crowed that Samantha Cameron and Miriam González Durántez were fronting a new campaign to champion social mobility for women.
CILEx has a commendable record in this regard: promoting social mobility is part of its raison d’etre, after all. And yet… Could this association be any more incongruous?
SamCam is as blue-blooded an aristocrat as they come; her father is a wealthy landowner descended from Charles II and her mother is Lady Astor. She married beneath her when she took up with our Etonian prime minister. A role model for social mobility?
Dechert LLP partner González Durántez, meanwhile, is married to the man whose pusillanimous about-turn on trebling tuition fees did more damage to the cause of social mobility than any other of recent memory. Here I could be accused of falling prey to the hoary chauvinistic pitfall of associating a women’s achievements with those of her husband. Guilty as charged, I suppose – but one must at least admire her chutzpah.
Notwithstanding these gripes, some Gazette readers will be disappointed to hear that my cynicism does not extend to the SRA’s diversity survey, which has generated much heat in our comment threads. Is this not yet another example of politically correct snooping by underworked regulators attempting to justify their existence?
I don’t think so. Not this time. For the rule of law to be perceived as credible in a world where deference has become quaint, surely its gatekeepers ought broadly to represent the society from which they are drawn. And the data showing that they do not are compelling. I direct you to the work of Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which has shown that in important respects the law is becoming more exclusive, not less.
In this context it is perfectly reasonable for the legal profession, as embodied by its umbrella bodies, to want to know precisely how it is comprised.
This need not be the prelude to a grand programme of social engineering. As with tuition fees, there are important factors at work here the legal profession can do little about. And no one is (yet) saying law firms should not be able to employ the best person for the job.
However, if the default position among legal employers remains that the ideal candidate will usually be a privately educated, heterosexual white male (nothing wrong with such people per se – I see one when I look in the mirror) then surely that is a problem that ought to be addressed.
Paul Rogerson is Gazette editor-in-chief