The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued what it described as a ‘final reminder’ to thousands of firms yet to disclose information on staff diversity.
As the Gazette went to press, 6,900 firms – 65% of the total – had not responded to the regulator’s survey on the sexuality, race and gender makeup of their workforces.
Those that miss the 31 January deadline have been warned they could face disciplinary action which could include fines.
Oversight regulator the Legal Services Board, which is pushing for the data collection, defended the survey as an ‘essential step’ to promoting inclusion.
Some law firms have said that IT issues have prevented them from filing their response. Yorkshire firm 7 Solicitors LLP tweeted the Gazette to say it had tried and failed 12 times to enter diversity data, but the system had crashed each time.
A spokesman for the SRA said there had been complaints about the online system but that these issues are ‘easily fixed’ – for example, by getting the firm’s authorised signatory to open relevant pages. Emails were sent last week to each firm yet to return its diversity data, with further guidance on how to use the IT system.
A spokesman for the LSB insisted the survey was necessary and said the SRA has made a ‘better start’ than other regulators in collecting information.
He added: ‘Diversity data is an essential step towards tackling the ongoing and persistent failure of the sector to reflect the diversity of the population of England and Wales at all levels within the profession.
‘The SRA (and similarly all regulators) need to consider what steps it needs to take to enforce this regulatory requirement. As the oversight regulator, we are monitoring their performance.’
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said he understood the frustration of some firms at dealing with the burden of the questionnaire.
‘The Society, while supporting the aims of a diverse and inclusive profession, was disappointed that our alternative approaches were unacceptable to the SRA and LSB,’ he said.