With reference to your recent article by Monidipa Fouzder, entitled ‘Gauke: we need to tackle diversity gap in senior law firm roles’ (7 November), on behalf of the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates I would very much like to draw your attention to the following issues.
We note and support the lord chancellor’s view that firms must do more to improve diversity at senior levels. We also note the well-known fact that those regulated by the Law Society are far more diverse than those regulated by the Bar Council.
As part of my appointment as chair of SAHCA, one of the key issues I am addressing is inequality between solicitor-advocates and counsel. If we want real change in our diversity gap, then the focus should not just be on the end product, but also the grass roots.
At the very lowest levels, solicitor-advocates do not generally have access to the ‘baby barrister’ or the ‘barrister review’ schemes, in which advocates act for the Home Office as presenting officers and/or reviewing decisions. This continues during the career path and has meant that there are only one or two solicitor-advocates on the attorney general’s four panels of advocates. As far as we are aware, there are none on the B or A panel.
As such the government recruits from a less diverse pool of the bar.
At the QC level, it is still exceptionally rare that solicitor-advocates are appointed. One key factor here is that it appears they are prevented from providing advocacy services to the government at any level.
This in turn means that, when it comes to the more senior judicial appointments, which are normally made from the QC-level advocates, solicitor-advocates are far less likely to succeed.
If the government wishes to change the diversity metrics in the profession, it should open up more junior roles to solicitor-advocates, allowing them the same opportunities as those at the bar from the start of their career.
I hope this letter will trigger the start of a full conversation on the issue of diversity at senior levels of the solicitors’ profession and the judiciary.
Diversity is not just the right thing, it also provides for development of the law in line with the society we serve.
Chair, Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates