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The Quest for Regulatory Equality

Leigh Day's Regulatory & Disciplinary team, in conjunction with Dave Neita, Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers, Professor Gus John and representatives from other interest groups, looked at the issues of the disproportionate impact of regulation on BAME lawyers afresh.

Over the course of decades, solicitors from the Global Majority* have been both overrepresented in the profession’s regulatory enforcement processes and fared worse in terms of outcomes when measured against their White counterparts.

This disproportionality is a complex issue and is not unique to the SRA among professional regulators. That, however, cannot excuse a less than rigorous analysis of what the SRA has been doing to address the issue since its inception in 2007; nor frank evaluation of its progress in doing so, in particular since the Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) by Professor Gus John, published in 2014.

Levelling the playing field by eradicating disproportionality based on individuals’ protected characteristics is vital to ensuring the fairness, integrity and reputation of the SRA’s regulatory process. And as a public interest regulator, the SRA can reasonably be expected to offer itself up to account in this and other areas and must do so.

Statistics published by the SRA in January 2021 showed that, despite its efforts to seek to address the issue since the ICCR, the situation remains largely unchanged – much work therefore remains to be done.

While the SRA is demonstrably engaging with issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, and while there may not be easy or immediate solutions, by not doing enough or by focusing its efforts in the wrong direction, the SRA may be missing opportunities to improve the situation.

However, Leigh Day also recognise that genuine and lasting change requires multiple different stakeholders, including the SRA, solicitors and representative groups, to work together to find solutions. For this reason, in November 2020 and March 2021, our Regulatory and Disciplinary team held online panel discussion events featuring a range of experts in the field, including Professor John himself, to debate the issues and make their own contributions to creating meaningful change.

Our events revealed that there is a wide range of opportunities available and options open to those who are truly committed to improving fairness in and the quality of the SRA’s regulatory processes. You can read more about these in our white paper (available shortly), produced as a result of the events. We hope the SRA (and the Legal Services Board) will seriously consider these and how they might be factored into strategy to tackle the issue going forward.

The Quest for Regulatory Equality

Read our report on how to address the continued disproportionality experienced by solicitors from the Global Majority in the SRA’s regulatory processes

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Part 1:The disproportionate impact of regulation on lawyers from BAME backgrounds

The SRA’s Standards and Regulations 2019 include a new Principle requiring those it oversees to act “in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion” (EDI).

The SRA has duties under the Legal Services Act 2007 to encourage an “independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession”, so its decision to enshrine EDI values in an important regulatory rule shouldn’t be a surprise.

In our first event, we considered:

  • How does the SRA setting such rules sit with the findings in 2014 of research commissioned by the SRA and conducted by Professor Gus John which found that SRA enforcement action disproportionately impacts lawyers from BAME backgrounds?
  • Will the SRA’s EDI statistics due for publication later this year show that it’s made any progress in addressing the problem?

In conjunction with Sally Brett (Head of EDI at the Law Society), Peter Herbert (Chair, Society of Black Lawyers), Angela Latta (Head of Regulatory Performance and Oversight, Legal Services Board), and Dave Neita (Chair) we looked at the findings of disproportionality and overrepresentation of lawyers from BAME backgrounds in the SRA’s regulatory process.

Watch Part 1.

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Part 2: Disproportionality in the regulation of Global Majority lawyers – where are we now and what comes next?

The second event in our series looked at the SRA’s updated data and considered some urgent questions:

  • What does this new data tell us about the progress made since the last review into this issue in 2014?
  • Is the data sufficient to answer key questions about the fairness of the SRA’s internal processes?
  • What steps can the SRA take to ensure that progress is made going forwards?
  • What steps can we, the profession, take to play our part?

Our expert panel, including Dave Neita (Chair), Professor Gus John (Academic and author of the ICCR), Jacqueline McKenzie (Partner specialising in immigration law, Leigh Day), Angela Latta (Head of Regulatory Performance and Oversight, Legal Services Board), Ranjit Sond (President of the Society for Asian Lawyers), Gideon Habel (Partner and Head of the Regulatory and Disciplinary Team, Leigh Day) and Emma Walker (Associate solicitor in the Regulatory and Disciplinary Team, Leigh Day), looked closely at the SRA’s recently published statistics to assess where we are now and opened up a discussion about what the profession, the SRA and other interest groups can do next to bring about meaningful change.

Watch Part 2.

Exclusive materials for attendees

Our team produced a range of relevant multimedia materials exclusively for attendees to inform the discussions at both events. You can now find these below.

Interview with Professor Gus John

The 2014 Independent Comparative Case Review highlighted the disproportionality and overrepresentation of Global Majority solicitors in the SRA regulatory process. Professor Gus John, author of the review, talks to Dave Neita about the review, some of the key findings, the current situation and lessons for the future.

Striving for regulatory accountability

Gideon Habel and Emma Walker of Leigh Day’s Regulatory and Disciplinary team discuss the practicalities of achieving greater accountability in the regulatory process.

The Independent Comparative Case Review – looking back, looking forward

Leigh Day’s Regulatory and Disciplinary team reflect on the findings of the Independent Comparative Case Review and put forward suggestions for how the regulator and the profession might approach the SRA’s forthcoming publication of statistics on the diversity profile of its disciplinary work.

My experience

A solicitor from the Global Majority shares their first-hand experience of being investigated by the SRA.

“You don’t look like a lawyer”

One of Leigh Day’s solicitor apprentices takes a look at racial and ethnic inequity in the legal profession, reflecting on her own and others’ experiences of getting into and working in the law.

*In discussions about ethnicity in the UK, the acronym “BAME” has been widely used in recent years as a shorthand term intended to describe “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” people.

In our view, in addition to acknowledging the many other well documented objections to the term, it also fails to reflect the fact that individuals who identify as having an ethnicity other than white are part of a majority on a global scale.

We therefore prefer to use the descriptor “Global Majority” when referring to individuals who identify as having an ethnicity other than “white”. However, where the acronym “BAME” was used in the original research or data, we sometimes repeat that term to make reading across to the underlying research simpler.