The Solicitors Regulation Authority has appointed a team of researchers from three universities for its latest probe into why a disproportionate share of solicitors complained about and investigated are from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

The commission is a response to a commitment made 18 months ago to address the issue when the SRA first published comprehensive data on the disparity in  disciplinary outcomes. Over the past decade and a half the regulator had run a series of external pieces of research looking into the issue. It commissioned a major review which was published in 2014.

That study found no evidence of discrimination but it did not look at why such a high proportion of complaints were about ethnic minority solicitors in light of the make-up of the profession.

The number of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors going through the disciplinary process continues to be disproportionately high. In 2020, a quarter of individuals reported to the regulator were from this group, making up 32% of those whose cases were pursued to investigation and 35% of those who ended up before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors made up 18% of the practising population at the time.

Experts from the universities of York, Cardiff and Lancaster will all work on the latest review. The research will involve a literature review, surveys, in-depth interviews, statistical analysis of SRA data sets and topic modelling to identify themes. The SRA has asked to hear from as many and as wide a range of people as possible as part of the project.

‘We have made significant changes to our enforcement processes and reformed our regulation over the last few years, but the picture remains the same and it is unclear why that is the case,’ said SRA chief executive Paul Philip. ‘Since 2007 we have held three independent reviews into our processes to make sure they are fair and free from bias, and none found any evidence of issues with our processes.’

‘These reviews have largely focused on our internal processes and the steps we could take to make sure we were being fair in responding to the reports we received. There are a multitude of factors that could affect over-representation, for example societal issues or related to structural factors in the legal sector. Having a better understanding of the causes will help us and others address these issues.’