An occupational hazard of journalism is that familiarity can dull ‘news’ sense. ‘Haven’t we done this before?’ is an oft-heard lament of harassed editors seeking fresh and engaging content.
So it is with diversity. The Gazette is bombarded with surveys and statistics inviting readers to deplore inequality in the legal profession across gender, race, disability and sexuality. Social class, too (though less often).
Nevertheless, we make no apologies for repetition, despite the criticism sometimes expressed ‘below the line’. As long as the numbers remain depressingly unbalanced, they will continue to be reported. When they are not, they will cease to be news.
Another journalistic dictum, of course, is ‘follow the money’. And it is here, I think, that the Law Society’s admirably thorough research on the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors really resonates. White solicitors earn a whopping one-third more than BAME solicitors on average, it found.
That is truly a statistic worth highlighting. White solicitors take home £9 an hour more than their BAME counterparts – an increment equivalent to more than the National Living Wage.
We know why, of course. Or think we do. BAME solicitors are much more likely to work in small firms or be sole practitioners. The big firms, where most of the big money is, are 90% white. Even more to the point, the big-earners in the biggest firms are overwhelmingly white; and that particular statistic has barely shifted in six years, despite the avalanche of good intentions we have heard expressed in that newly ‘woke’ period.
Citing cultural differences for the perpetuation of these imbalances is highly dubious, insofar as it can appear to be a convenient excuse for lethargy. It also invites suspicions of institutional racism, an even graver accusation.
As a journalist, I will be interested to see what the numbers look like in another six years, now the big firms are getting serious about turning woolly aspirations into targets. Simmons & Simmons is just the latest to do so.
If change is coming, the Society’s research has conclusively demonstrated that it is well overdue.