White men are nearly six times more likely to become a law firm partner than black, Asian and minority ethnic women, independent research carried out for the Solicitors Regulation Authority has found.

The research, conducted by the University of Leeds and Newcastle University Business School, covers data for solicitors who entered the profession between 1970 and 2016. However, it only includes solicitors who were still on the roll from 2006 onwards.

According to the figures, around half of solicitors are women. The proportion of BAME solicitors over the last three decades has rise from 0.25% in 1982 to 16% now. 

A third of partners are women. White men are over three times more likely to become a partner in large corporate firms than white women, and six times more likely than BAME women.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said firms have made progress to improve diversity. The regulator conducted in-depth interviews with 32 firms for its accompanying report, Unlocking the benefits of diversity.

Examples of best practice included: setting up diversity groups; building on relationships with organisations such as Stonewall; regular staff lunches inviting staff to talk about issues they face with senior members; and a root-and-branch review of the firm's processes and procedures to strip out bias.

However, Philip said the sector 'still has some way to go'. He added: 'This is not about ticking boxes. Diverse, inclusive law firms benefit everybody. They can attract and retain the best people, regardless of background. If firms reflect the communities they serve, it may also help improve access to legal services.

'Our thematic review shows that firms are trying different ways of increasing diversity. It is clear that a willingness to change and simple steps can make a big difference.'