The Legal Services Board has decided to give regulators greater flexibility when improving diversity in the legal profession, while insisting it is not ‘stepping back’ from the issue.
After consulting on its 2011 guidance last year, the oversight regulator has published revised guidance that will give freedom to bodies such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority to develop their own approaches.
In a letter to regulators, LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said: ‘The new guidance takes a less prescriptive approach than the version that preceded it. This is not the LSB “stepping back” from diversity; instead quite the reverse.
‘Rather, we consider that the greater flexibility offered to the regulators in this guidance will help you and the sector to find new ways of developing diversity and to assist in new ways of collecting and using the valuable data gathered over the last five years.’
The board’s consultation response document states that feedback over the past five years identified issues with some of the questions in the LSB’s ‘model questionnaire’ in the original guidance.
‘The 2011 template was a good start for collecting basic diversity data and allowed the development of an evidence base to gain a better understanding of diversity within the legal sector,’ the document adds.
Last year the SRA acknowledged the burden placed on firms by its requirement to collect diversity data, announcing that the hitherto annual exercise would take place every two years. The next one will be this year.
The board’s consultation response document states: ‘We consider that regulators should use their experience to develop questionnaires that will give them the most useful data.’
In his letter, Buckley said the LSB remains committed to assessing diversity performance. Initial discussions will be held with regulators in August on how the guidance is supporting work done over the next six months.
The information will be used to formalise an assessment process. The first formal assessment will take place in August 2018.