It will take another 20 years until women reach gender parity with men in senior partner positions, even though they already account for over half of law graduates, academic research suggests.
BPP University Law School analysed more than 25 years worth of Law Society data for its report, Law Firm of the Future, published today. Currently 47% of lawyers are women. This will rise to 71% in 20 years' time, according to the law school's 'statistical modelling' projections.
If current trends continue, law firms will also be more ethnically diverse. The percentage of practising solicitors who are White European will fall from the current 84% to 72%, while the proportion of Asian solicitors will double to 16%. The percentage of African/Afro-Caribbean solicitors will rise from 2.5% to 4%, and double to 3% for Chinese solicitors.
Jo-Anne Pugh, the law school's director of LPC programmes, said law firms' efforts to diversify their intake were 'bearing fruit'. However, she warned, 'there is some way to go, and the picture at senior level is less promising'.
The study was unable to make future projections on educational background due to insufficient data. However, thinking about diversity solely in demographic terms 'is only part of the picture', Pugh said. 'We need to move away from a crude approximation of diversity and look at how the profession will develop.'
There is also a mismatch between student aspirations, and the attitude and qualities employers increasingly demand, Pugh observed. 'Too many youngsters derive their perception of the law from popular legal dramas like Suits. They don't understand that law firms will want recruits who can add value in very different ways and don't just want the Harvey Specter "rain makers" and deal brokers who have been traditionally feted,' she said.
Future conversation about diversity will also need to cover roles, not just the workforce. Pugh said: 'There is a rise in online and contract and consultancy work, and the number of roles you will have during your career is likely to increase. The holy grail of equity partnership will be achieved by fewer people but other roles like legal engineer, legal technologist and project management will be increasingly valued.'