The lack of diversity at partnership level at the biggest law firms 'ought to be a national scandal', the chief executive of the profession's oversight regulator has told a landmark summit for junior lawyers.

Matthew Hill, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, was discussing diversity during a plenary session at the Law Society's Junior Solicitors Network Summit last Friday.

Asked if the Solicitors Qualifying Examination is currently achieving its aims in making the profession more accessible, Hill said SQE 'never claimed it would solve all the problems' immediately. 'It claimed it would centralise the process.'

There were 'two bigger points', Hill said. 'How do we get people into the profession where they are even thinking about the path that takes them to SQE. How do we make lawyering universal [in its] attractiveness to anyone?'

'Entry to the profession is an issue but it is by no means the biggest issue', he added. 'There are a whole bunch of questions, concerns about how people make it through the senior levels of their chosen route of their chosen profession. Diversity on every dimension erodes really fast at seniority'. 

The number of partners from diverse backgrounds at the biggest law firms 'ought to be a national scandal', Hill said. 'The data is pretty shocking. There is no accepted, sophisticated model of seniority in the legal profession. What you have is, "are you a partner?" or "are you not a partner?". It misses the wider richness of experience. So we cannot describe well what our profession looks like.'

Highlighting the need for greater transparency on work allocation and promotions, Hill said there were 'acceptable working practices in law firms that are probably creating hidden barriers'. Examples of exclusionary working cultures include strategy planning in a pub.

Hill said: 'If you're the one landing a big juicy client because you happen to be part of that big network that not everyone has access to, that becomes a problem.'


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