Ethnic minority City lawyers still under-represented at the top

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Only a handful of internationalist firms reflect diversity of the general UK population


The partnerships of City law firms continue to be dominated by white lawyers, despite a more ethnically diverse intake at associate level.

Legal Cheek’s 2016 Firms Most List demonstrates a comparatively high intake of ethnic minority associates, but this pattern is not reflected at senior level.

According to the most up-to-date figures from the UK census, approximately 14% of the population is of an ethnic minority background. In London, where the majority of top commercial law firms are based, that percentage is closer to 50%.

43 law firms disclosed their associate workforce data to us, and none come close to reflecting the London figure. However, many firms do reach, or nearly reach, the national average — 15 out of 43 firms employ between 10% and 14% black and minority ethnic (BME) associates.

Meanwhile, 13 out of 43 firms (30%) surpass the standard figure of 14%, with magic circle firm Linklaters topping the list at 28%.


At some firms, this trend continues into more senior positions. There are a number of major commercial firms that pride themselves on their internationality and diversity, and whose UK ethnic diversity statistics are more in keeping with national figures. Cleary Gottlieb, for example, has a strong presence of ethnic minority lawyers both in its junior and senior workforce at 25% and 14% respectively. Similar figures are evident at Mayer Brown and Clyde & Co.


These firms are, however, in the minority: across the board, most law firms have far less ethnic minority lawyers in their partner positions than 14%.

42 firms disclosed their partner workforce data to us. In 35 out of 42 of our law firms (83%), the percentage of partnership positions filled by non-white lawyers does not hit 10. Four out of 42 firms (10%) do demonstrate an intake of BME partners higher than the national average, but a similar number — three out of 42 (7%) — do not have a single partner from an ethnic minority background.

For some firms, the junior position and senior position stats are at odds. Take Herbert Smith Freehills and Slaughter and May, for example. As far as associate level positions are concerned, the diversity stats exceed the national average, at 17% and 19% respectively. But the percentage of ethnic minority lawyers in partner roles at these firms is low — 2% and 6% respectively.

These firms may be described as transitioning — their emphasis on ethnic diversity came largely after the turn of the millennium, so BME lawyers are still filtering through. If this is so, we can expect to see more and more non-white lawyers moving into positions of seniority in years to come.

In other firms, white lawyers dominate positions at all employment levels. Five firms — Bird & Bird, CMS Cameron McKenna, DWF, RPC and Travers Smith — do not have a 5% stronghold of ethnic minority lawyers as associates or partners.

But the very fact that they make this data openly available is encouraging, and implies a willingness to become more representative of the general population. Hopefully the 18 firms that were unable to provide full ethnic diversity figures will be more forthcoming in the years ahead as the commercial branch of the English legal profession changes to better reflect its surroundings and the international clients it serves.

Further reading:

The 2016 Firm Most List



When I read the word ‘internationalist’, a little bit of sick came out.



Waiting for the comment that says “ethnic minorities just make different choices that’s why they aren’t partners”



ethnic minorities just make different choices that’s why they aren’t partners


Guru nana

True, that and the fact that white public school-educated partners in City firms are scared of people who don’t look like them.



Partners just make different life choices that’s why they aren’t ethnic minorities.



ethnic majorities just make the same choices that’s why they are partners



It bears asking for how long TC intakes have been representative. In order to hire diverse partners, there have to be enough people from various backgrounds who are senior enough.



Just read the antepenultimate para – hopefully we can expect ethnic diversity to improve in the near future.



Exactly! So tired of the conjecture drawn from unrelated statistics that this writer spouts.



How diverse is Legal Cheek’s writing staff? The vast majority of them look to be student-aged white kids. Sounds like some privileges need a checkin’


Salacious S. Crumb

Hear hear. Rumours have it Ms Katie King failed to bag a TC with her Bristol law degree so now she toils away at LC writing this wistful guff in hopes someone will give her a proper job.

Epic fail.



I’ve got some watercolours left from Halloween – do you reckon if I come in black face they will hire me?



Does this writer produce anything other than poorly written complaints about how we don’t have a perfectly equal gender/ethnicity/sexuality etc. divide throughout all levels of every law firm?

You do realise that comparing associate % who are BME to partner % is a flawed comparison? There will be a much larger % of BME candidates who have the required qualifications/experience to become associates than BME candidates who have the required experience to become partners.

This is really simple logic… There will doubtlessly be a ‘trickle-up’ effect with the partner % increasing as the increased % of associates leads to more becoming partners, but you cannot magic BME eligible partners out of thin air to match the rate of growth at associate level.


Tunde's Tugboat

Definitely agreed – thank goodness some people on this website still maintain a healthy mind, unlike the author of this hunk of crap.



“15 out of 43 firms employ between 10% and 14% black and minority ethnic (BME) associates”
Where are these firms based? The national average is not reflective of any given region in the UK; ethnic minority populations fluctuate wildly depending on location. It’s implied early on that this is City but references to London are dropped when it actually comes to discussing the data.


Tunde's Tugboat

This post has been removed because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.


Hotline Dong

Look kids, LC going gestapo again and censoring posts. Dumb f*cks.


Guru nana

This is all because of evil misogyny. All ethnic minorities are female, which is a well known fact. The lack of ethnic diversity is 100% the result of sexism.



You’re a prick.


M. Chafeson

An interesting and well-written article. Thank you.



Can Legal Cheek stop pretending their ‘Firms Most List’ is a big deal? It’s a load of crap…



Well, it’s somewhat useful as a rudimentary comparison between firms in terms of TC places & moolah, but the BME sections are admittedly completely pointless shite. As if someone would pick their firm based on how many partners there are called Mohammad and live in Tower Hamlets…


Sheikh Rahtul Ahnrol

I would!


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