Regulators should consider the burden imposed on law firms by diversity data collection exercises, a new report has recommended.
The oversight regulator the Legal Services Board today commends the frontline regulators for developing a ‘robust evidence base’ on diversity statistics in the legal profession.
This was achieved, in the case of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, through a much tougher stance on firms that were not complying with diversity surveys.
But, the LSB says, despite building up significant amounts of data, the collection exercise appears to have had little real effect on diversity levels in the profession.
The LSB says it now expects ‘greater statistical sophistication’ in the collection, analysis and presentation of data to ensure it has a long-term impact.
Thought should also be given to the frequency of data collection and the burden it has on legal services providers, particularly when there is overlap in multidisciplinary practices.
‘It is important that we encourage the development of a diverse and socially mobile legal sector that reflects the society it serves,’ said LSB chairman Sir Michael Pitt.
‘The use of data has not had the level of impact hoped for on the many issues identified by the LSB’s research in this area and they [regulators] need to reconsider their approach to this.’
Regulators are praised in the report for ‘significant improvements’ in the disclosure of diversity data, particularly among small and medium-sized firms. There has also been increasing action by firms in relation to diversity at senior levels.
The LSB wants all regulators to publish anonymised raw data in the future and held up the SRA’s law firm diversity toolkit, which allows firms to compare their approach with their rivals, as an example of an approach other regulators should consider.
The report reveals that the average response rate to SRA diversity surveys increased from 42% in 2012 to 79% in 2013.
After taking what was described as a ‘lenient’ stance with non-responding firms in 2012, the SRA subsequently threatened regulatory action for non-compliant firms, reinforced with messages on the importance of the work.
The SRA has continued with its supervision visits to larger firms to discuss compliance and has involved staff from the equality and diversity team in these visits.
In response to feedback from the profession, the SRA is reviewing its online data collection tool ahead of its use in the 2014/15 exercise and considering both external and internal data collection options.
The LSB adds: ‘We expect the SRA to further consider what could be done to support greater cross-tabulation of the substantial data set that is being produced, and the wider availability of this data set to support further analysis.’
In a statement, Richard Collins, SRA executive director, said: ‘A priority for us as a regulator is to promote the development of a diverse and representative profession.
‘We recognise that there is still much to do to ensure that the data we collect can be used to best effect in driving further change within the sector. We are building on the work we have already done by developing our data set and seeking to use it better for analysis and benchmarking across the sector.’