Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales Bar publish new diversity and admissions data

New reports on admissions and diversity in the legal profession have been released by the Australian Conference of Law Societies, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland (LSRA), the Law Society of Scotland and the Bar Standards Board of England and Wales.

Australia

The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, produced on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies, an organisation that represents the different law societies from across the Australian territories, show that there are now 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia, an increase of 26,066 solicitors since 2011, representing a 45% increase. The report also shows that women now make up 53% of solicitors across the country, up from 46% in 2011.

The report has also found that there has been a 59% increase in practice in those aged 65 or older, with the average age being 42 years old, and that in  2020, 632 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, representing 0.8% of all solicitors in Australia. Since 2014, this trend has remained relatively stable. The report also shows that the majority of solicitors operate in private practice, however corporate legal has been the most rapidly growing area.

Access the Australian report here. 

Ireland 

On the 30th of June, the LSRA published its second annual admissions report entitled ‘Pathways to the Professions 2020: Annual Report on Admission Policies of the Legal Professions’.

The key findings of the report include:

  • 906 solicitors were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 2020, a 62% decrease on 2019
  • The “Brexit-effect” whereby UK qualified lawyers qualify into Ireland has begun to subside. The number of England and Wales-qualified solicitors entering the Roll, has dropped to 443 compared to 1,838 in 2019 (this may partly be due to saturation and partly due to changes to the admission policy requiring England and Wales qualified solicitors to demonstrate an intention to practice in Ireland)
  • A total of 11,854 solicitors held Irish practising certificates on 31 December 2020, a decrease of 105 from 2019
  • A total of 167 barristers were called to the Bar of Ireland in 2020, this is down 14% from 190 in 2019.
  • Of the 167 barristers admitted to practise in the year, 116 were graduates of the King’s Inns Barrister-at-Law degree course. The total also includes 47 barristers admitted having obtained their professional qualifications in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

Access the LSRA’s report here. 

Scotland

Diversity data collected as part of the annual Practising Certificate (PC) renewal process has been published by the Law Society of Scotland. Diversity questions were included for the first time in the 2020/21 PC renewal process, with around 80% of respondents providing a response to diversity questions. Respondents were asked about their ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and social background, including the type of school they mainly attended and what their parents’ occupation was.

Key findings include:

  • The Scottish legal profession is getting more ethnically diverse, although more slowly than the wider population. Just over 88% of the profession is white, with at least 3.38% of the profession coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
  • Almost 7% of solicitors aged under 30 come from a BAME background.
  • Around two-thirds of newly admitted members were female.
  • 3.2% of the profession is LGBTQ+.
  • 4.8% of the profession has a disability, such as blindness, deafness or a mobility impairment.

Access the Law Society of  Scotland’s report here. 

Barristers in England and Wales

The BSB has published the seventh and final annual edition of its statistical information relating to student performance on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The report uses data from students from the 2019-2020 academic year, as well as the preceding two academic years. The report includes information on the demographics and results of those who enrolled on the BPTC, as well as the success rates of those seeking a pupillage after the course.

Key findings include:

  • 18% fewer of the students who enrolled in 2019-20 completed the course compared to the year before and the of the UK  and EU graduates in the same period 10% began a pupillage in 2020-21 compared to 23% in the 2018-19 cohort, reflecting a 35% fall in pupillage places. This drop may be partially related to COVID-19 as well as Brexit.
  • 1,685 students enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20, a decrease of 68 students compared to 2018-19.
  • 46% of students 46% who enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20 were overseas (non-UK/EU) domiciled,
  • Female BPTC students increased from 52.3% in 2011-12 to 57.8% in 2019-20
  • of the 95% who provided information on their ethnicity, the percentage of UK/EU domiciled students from a minority ethnic group was 35% in 2019-20. This was down by around five percentage points compared to 2018-19,  and was at the lowest level since 2015-16;

As well as this the report found that  39.5% of UK/EU students who enrolled on the course from 2015 to 2019 had started a pupillage by March 2021 of these 55% were female, and when controlling for academic and BPTC results found that those from a white background were more likely to commence a pupillage, with 41% of white students starting a pupillage compared with 23% of those from a minority background.

Read the BSB’s full report here. 

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Law Society of New South Wales welcomes new advocacy service for cognitively impaired users

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has welcomed the NSW Government’s decision to invest $28million in to the Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) and the establishment of a new court-based diversion program for individuals with a cognitive impairment. 

JAS is a support service provided to victims, witnesses and defendants with a cognitive impairment. The aim of the service is to facilitate client’s ability to exercise their rights and participation in criminal justice processes. Those eligible for the service are connected with a support person when they are in contact with police, courts and legal representatives. JAS is available across NSW, including rural, regional and remote areas.

The new court based diversion program will build on the supports offered by JAS, providing more targeted assistance for people with cognitive impairment accused of low level offences.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner, said the Law Society has long advocated for increased diversion at all stages of the criminal justice system for people with cognitive impairments. Saying “People with cognitive impairment are currently over-represented throughout the criminal justice system. We commend the Government for investing in the JAS and providing greater support to people with a cognitive impairment. The announcement concerning new court based diversion services at Sydney’s Downing Centre, Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith, Gosford and Lismore Local Courts is also a positive one and the Law Society looks forward to learning more details about what they will entail, when they become available.I am particularly happy to see that the new diversion program will support people with a cognitive impairment who come into contact with the criminal justice system in regional NSW.Effective diversion requires offenders to engage with adequately resourced treatment and service providers. Diversion can benefit both the offender and the wider community by addressing the causes of offending and reducing offending behaviour, as well as reducing the costs of imprisonment and hospital readmissions.”

Read more about the investment here. 

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Bar Standards Board publishes independent review of 2020 qualifying exams

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published the results of an independent review of the August 2020 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams, the exams used by the Board as part of the qualification process for barristers. The review was commissioned by the BSB in November 2020 and was conducted by Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of the University of Hull and Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, an interdisciplinary social scientist based at University College London, who is also an equalities consultant and a disability activist.

The Review found that candidates experienced a number of different challenges, including difficulty in changing to computer-based assessments and challenges related to online proctoring,  when sitting the examination remotely in August 2020, due to a variety of different factors. Based on these the review makes a number of recommendations, which have been collated by the BSB into an examination action plan, designed to ensure that changes are actioned.  The Action Plan is grouped into five main themes and includes measures to:

  • improve the BSB’s communication and engagement with students and training providers;
  • make the centralised assessments more accessible and inclusive, particularly when candidates require reasonable adjustments;
  • make the BSB’s approach to policy and process development in this area more inclusive by improving the regulator’s engagement with key stakeholders;
  • introduce a critical incidents policy and improve data protection and project management;
  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of the BSB and training providers in the management of the centralised.

Responding to the Review, the Chair of the BSB, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, said

“First and foremost, I should like to apologise again to all those students who faced difficulties completing their exams last August. The BSB had to move from pen and paper based assessments delivered by training providers to arrange computer based assessments in a very short period of time in the middle of a global pandemic. Ordinarily, such a change would have taken at least 12 months to plan and to pilot. I am pleased that the report finds that the BSB was right to seek to offer computer based assessments and right to contract with Pearson VUE to deliver the exams, including to run remote proctoring for the students sitting the exams online and to book testing centre spaces for students unable to take the exams remotely. Around 75% of BPTC exams were completed but far too many students faced difficulties which should never have occurred. The BSB’s staff worked very hard to implement the new arrangements for the exams but we very much regret that many students had a difficult experience both in booking and sitting the exams. The Board has welcomed the Review by Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar. It has approved the Executive’s proposed Action Plan and will ensure that the Review’s recommendations are put into effect. The Board has discussed the Action Plan with Professor Huxley-Binns and Dr Kumar and they fully endorse the Plan as meeting the recommendations in their Review. I am pleased that the Review found no failure of governance. The Board is determined to ensure that the BSB learns the lessons for the future. Those lessons will be of great help to the BSB and to future students. We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to this Review and I should like once again to repeat my apology to those who had difficulties last August.”

Read the BSB’s comments here, or read the full review here.

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ABA study reveals that disabled and LBGTQ+ lawyers face discrimination

A study carried out by the ABA in collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University has found that lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ commonly report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at their workplaces.

The study surveyed 3,590 lawyers, including individuals from every state and the District of Columbia, and was conducted over the course of 2018 to 2019. The study examines individuals with multiple identities that intersect, such as people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities who also have disabilities.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez has said that the“study is an important first step in working towards a more inclusive and better legal profession by identifying bias and stigmas against LGBTQ+ lawyers as well as lawyers with disabilities. The ABA remains committed to its core goal of eliminating bias and enhancing diversity. Discrimination against people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals, whether structural or unintentional, needs to be eradicated.”

Among the key findings of the study were:

4 of 10 respondents reported perceptions or experiences of subtle but unintentional biases. 1 in 5 respondents noted the experience of subtle and intentional biases.

Approximately 16.6% of the lawyers responding identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 0.4% identified their sexual orientation as open. Of 67 lawyers who were women and identified as LGB with a health condition, slightly more than half reported they had experienced discrimination in their workplaces.

Read the full ABA report.

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SRA report on disability in the workplace reveals disparity with overall population

Research released by the SRA has highlighted unwillingness amongst legal professionals with a disability to inform their employer of their situation. This, in turn, suggests that firms may not be doing enough to facilitate working conditions that are conducive to working with a disability.

The report finds that 3% of solicitors report as having a disability, a figure that has not significantly changed in 10 years. This compares with 13% of the UK population, demonstrating a significant disparity. This suggests either that individuals are under-reporting due to discomfort over identifying as disabled, or that firms are not doing enough to improve accessibility for employees.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive said: “It is important that people who need legal services have access to a profession that is diverse and inclusive. We know that diverse businesses are better businesses so wanted to find out more about what lies behind the apparent under-declaration of disabilities in the legal workforce. Our new report also looks at what firms can do to promote a much more disability-inclusive working environment, highlighting best practice.”

The full report is available here.

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