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Underpaid, stressed and bullied: Experiences of BAME solicitors laid bare in new report

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Law Society research compares experiences of black, asian and minority ethnic solicitors with white counterparts

Black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors are underpaid, more stressed and report higher levels of bullying and discrimination than their white counterparts, a new report published today by the Law Society has revealed.

The Society commissioned research at the start of the year to assess the progress towards a more diverse and inclusive legal profession. President David Greene said the findings show BAME solicitors face barriers “at every step of their career”.

BAME solicitors work longer hours each week, but for an average of £65,000, including bonus, each year — 25% less than their white colleagues (£86,000).

Other key findings include 24% of BAME solicitors reporting severe or extreme stress compared to 18% of white solicitors.

Further, BAME solicitors report higher levels of bullying and discrimination in the workplace, with 16% stating they have faced bullying and 13% adverse discrimination. In comparison, 13% of white solicitors reported bullying and 8% discrimination. A third of black African and Caribbean solicitors said they experienced some form of bullying or discrimination at work — the highest figure reported by any ethnic group.

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Almost all respondents to the research said they experienced some level of microagressions based on their ethnicity. These include ‘othering’ — pointing out, scrutinising or mocking cultural differences in the form of “banter” or “jibes”; ‘misidentification’ such as confusion over non-western names and being mistaken for someone less senior; and cultural assumptions and exclusions.

One asian female solicitor observed:

“If I did something at the weekend that was an Indian-culture thing you will get a comment back to you which makes you feel like, ‘oh that is a really odd thing to do, because you don’t ski on the weekend, or you don’t play golf or whatever it is’… just having a very weird response that makes you feel ‘othered’.”

The research conducted a secondary analysis of existing diversity data along with primary qualitative research, mainly from roundtable discussions with solicitors and recruitment professionals, but also from interviews with thought leaders.

It argues that focusing on overall representation in the profession can be “misleading”; on the face of it, ethnic diversity in the profession is in line with the UK society as a whole and has been improving over the years, but conceals differences between groups. For example, though 17.5% of the profession identify as BAME, 10% identify as asian while only 3% identify as black.

The report puts forward a series of recommendations Greene hopes will act as a blueprint for law firms “to drive equality and inclusion up to the most senior levels”. These focus on entry to the profession; development, promotion and retention; data collection and evaluation.

Greene said the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests shone a light on the racial inequalities and injustices that persist around the world. “The movement has undoubtedly increased the focus on these issues in the legal profession and provided a much-needed opportunity for reflection,” he said. “We must ensure that our profession is at the forefront of the fight against racism and reflects the diversity of the society it represents.”

A number of major law firms have renewed their diversity strategies in recent months. Simmons & Simmons, Norton Rose Fulbright, Linklaters and Allen & Overy have all announced ethnic minority targets for trainees.

Earlier in the summer the Black Solicitors Network urged law firm leaders to “walk the talk” on diversity and action racial inequalities in the workplace.

Read the report in full below:

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