We know that the vast majority of the 200,000 solicitors and 10,400 law firms we regulate do a good job and provide high-quality legal services. But, when people or firms fall short of the standards that we set and the public expect, we can take action to enforce our standards and make sure that the public can continue to place confidence in the profession and legal services.
I think that one part of ensuing that confidence - for both the public and the profession - is openness about what we do. We have now published the full suite of our operational reporting for 2018/19 - including the details of our enforcement work and the diversity characteristics of the people involved in our enforcement processes.
Yet again we are seeing the overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in both the concerns raised with us and then investigated, when compared to the diversity of the profession as a whole. It’s a picture that we and other regulators have seen over many years and in different sectors.
We have commissioned three external reviews of our processes since 2007 and have also published a report on what we have done since the most recent report – the 2014 Independent Comparative Case Review undertaken by Professor Gus John. We have made significant changes to our enforcement processes and reformed our regulation over the last few years but the picture remains the same. So what is happening here?
The simple answer is that we don’t know. None of the reviews found any evidence of discrimination in our processes but we will of course look again at our decision making.
And what about the significant overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors in concerns reported to us? We all know that many BAME solicitors work in small firms – is this all about where people work and what they do? The recent Law Society Race for Inclusion report echoes our research and shows that there are real difficulties for BAME solicitors – is that part of the picture? Again, we just don’t know.
I think it’s time to find the answers to the questions. In addition to looking at our processes, we will commission substantial and independent research into the factors that are driving concerns about BAME solicitors to our front door. Importantly, armed with that better understanding, we can look at what needs to change.
These are contentious and sensitive issues and we want to shift the dial, working with others to make the difference we all want to see. It won’t be easy and it will take time but it’s the right thing to do.
Anna Bradley is chair of the SRA