Improving diversity in the law has been a ‘painfully slow’ process over the past decade, the Black Solicitors Network says in its latest league table report.

The BSN, which published its first diversity league table in 2006, said its sample of firms in the early years had around one in five partners who were women and about 4% from a minority ethnic background.

Just over half of associates were female and one in 10 were from an ethnic minority background.

‘Some’ encouragement could be taken from the fact 25.3% of partners were female, based on this year’s sample of firms; 6.1% were of ethnic minority descent. The proportion of associates who were female rose to 56.5%; 13.4% were from an ethnic minority background.

This year 36 law firms and 20 barristers chambers took part in the survey, compared with 41 firms and 16 chambers last year.

The network was cautious about drawing comparisons across the years due to differing sample sizes, but it said the ‘relatively slow pace of change’ was confirmed by Law Society and Bar Council statistics.

‘The one thing that a 10-year review underlines is that progress has been painfully slow,’ the report said. 

BSN chief executive and founding member Cordella Bart-Stewart (pictured) said one of the successes of the network, which was established 20 years ago, had ‘invariably’ been reaching the 10-year milestone with the league table.

‘However, we should not let us achieving these important milestones distract us from the state of the profession in terms of access to opportunities for black lawyers.’

This year’s findings highlighted higher levels of gender and ethnic diversity at junior levels, which was good, Bart-Stewart said.

‘However, the attrition levels as we move up the professional ladder are a cause for real concern.

‘The issues of retention and promotion continue to present a more stubborn challenge for the profession and we have not seen anything like enough movement in those areas.’

Meanwhile prime minister David Cameron said in a foreword to the report that organisations such as the BSN ‘can make sure that Britain really is a place where opportunity is truly equal and people are judged by their talent, and not by anything else’.

‘No one should be held back because of their race, gender or religion, whether this is making university applications or applying for jobs – everyone should be inspired to reach their potential,’ he said.

  • National firm Freeths came top of the overall diversity league table – a combination of a firm’s position in the ‘policy and practice’ and league table scores.
  • South-east firm MW Solicitors was the highest-ranked top-100 UK firm. The firm, which has 20 offices across the south of England, had the highest levels of ethnic and gender diversity at partner level.
  • Most of the UK 100 firms owed their top-10 positions to high levels of gender diversity, the report said.
  • Magic circle firm Linklaters was top of the most diverse City firms who participated in the survey. The report states that more highly ranked City firms achieved their positions mainly as a result of relatively high levels of ethnic diversity.
  • Fasken Martineau headed the top-10 rankings for international firms a second year in a row. The report says the firm owes its top position to the particularly high levels of ethnic diversity among partners and associates, and ranking second in the table for gender diversity of associates.