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Ethnic diversity at the bar isn’t actually that bad (but it’s not that good either)

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At least people are talking about it — unlike social-economic diversity

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The number of black and minority ethnic (BME) barristers is on the up — ever so slightly — but no one really knows what’s going on with the bar’s socio-economic diversity stats.

The Report on Diversity at the Bar — newly released by the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) — revealed that ethnic diversity at the bar maybe isn’t as bad as sometimes thought.

Of the 16,336 practitioners at the bar that responded to the survey, 12% identify as BME. This is way less than the London population average, which is close to 50%, but only slightly less than the 14% national average.

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While the BSB boasts a slight increase (1%) of BME barristers and 0.3% of BME QCs since 2014, it admits that there is still “an issue” in relation to the progression of non-white lawyers through the ranks of the profession.

Broken down, it’s 15.4% of pupils, 12% of barristers, and 6.3% QCs that make up this overall 12%, so — as is often the case with gender diversity studies — it’s the top ranks that are lagging behind in the ethnic representation initiatives.

But it’s worth noting that the 6.3% BME silk rate beats the 4% of FTSE 100 chief executives who are from ethnic minorities, even if it does fall short of the 7.8% of senior managers at the BBC who are BME.

Nor is the bar massively worse than the big commercial law firms, many of whose partner ethnic diversity stats hover around similar percentages.

Where the survey fails is in its treatment of the bar’s socio-economic demography, because there just isn’t all that much data to hand. While the response rate to the ethnicity-based question was 91.4% — a 2.4% improvement since 2014 — just over a quarter of barristers gave information about their secondary and university education.

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Using the data available, the bar of 2015 certainly lives up to its public school kids reputation. Just over 35% of barristers went to a fee paying school, with this number jumping up to 55% when QCs are looked at in isolation. These figures tower over the national average of 7%.

By contrast, the figures on university progression provide a much less nauseating sight for social representation campaigners. Of those that responded, 44% were first generation uni goers, and 50% were not.

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The big problem with all this is that it’s maybe a bit too easy to contrive trends out of the available data. The information is so limited that trying to draw definitive statements from it just ends up producing very skewed, and probably incorrect, conclusions.

If the BSB really wants to wear its pro-diversity badge with pride, it needs to know just how diverse the bar actually is — not how diverse the one quarter who could be bothered to respond to the survey are.