Well over half of solicitors other than partners are women, with a much higher proportion of Asian ethnic background than the population at large, according to figures reported by the Solicitors Regulation Authority today. However the analysis of 186,000 people working at 9,500 firms showed a marked shift in demographic make-up at partner level and in larger firms.

The figures also support the SRA's warning earlier this month that people with disabilities are under-represented in the profession. The regulator's snapshot of all firms in England and Wales, carried out last August, showed that just 4% of people working in legal practices declared a disability. This was significantly lower than the wider population, where disabled people make up 13% of the UK workforce.

The proportion is roughly similar to when the survey was last carried out in 2017, with 3% of lawyers saying they were disabled and 4% of other staff. The rate is highest among firms with six to nine partners, and the proportion is halved among in-house solicitors.

Elsewhere researchers found that 49% of all solicitors are women (up by one percentage point since 2017) but that women account for only 34% of partners. Overall, 59% of solicitors working at non-partner level are women. 

The proportion of solicitors of Asian ethnic background has risen from 9% to 15% over the past five years - although this figure falls to 5% among the larger firms. The proportion of Asian employees in the UK workforce is 7%. The proportion of black solicitors (3%) has remained roughly the same and is in line with the general population.

Solicitors who attended fee-paying schools make up 21% of the profession, rising to 32% in larger firms. This figure has fallen marginally in recent years but is still far beyond the 7% of the UK population who were privately educated.

A third of lawyers have primary caring responsibilities for children, while almost one in 10 lawyers say they have caring responsibilities for an adult (most stated they provide between one and 19 hours of care a week).

The SRA said the disability figures suggested a culture where disabled solicitors were not coming forward and accessing adjustments which could be made within the workplace. Earlier this month it reported 'startling' levels of confusion over the issue. 

Law Society president Simon Davis said 'The figures around the number of disabled solicitors are particularly concerning. In our 2019 PC holder survey, 16% of respondents reported having a mental or physical illness or disability which impacted their day to day life – a significant increase from the 3% of private practice solicitors reported by the SRA.'