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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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24 Comments

Data

Yet another self-serving report that lazily places great weight on “roundtable discussions” wit self-selecting participants, a surefire way to get the “data” you were looking for before you started. Look as an example on the reference to the “influence of names” at page 23. Often perceived as a barrier, real research shows it has no effect whatsoever. And yet it is in this report, which is no surprise at all.

How about data from objective academics not businesses steeped in the diversity industry? Correlation is not causation. Were these figures used in the PR spin mediated to take into account socioeconomic background? Of course they were not and until they are marketing industry “research” is worth nothing. Socioeconomic discrimination will explain almost all the differences, it always does when properly factored in. Page 19 of the report touches upon the point, but in the recommendations at page 54 the report pushes for targeting BAME working class candidates, not working class candidates generally, which will obviously discriminate against the white candidates.

The recommendations ignore real discrimination against those who are not BAME while gifting even more tailwind that is not needed to middle class BAME candidates and staff. George Floyd and BLM have nothing to do with these issues and referring to them in the foreword is a red flag for the quality of the product.

(103)(37)

Enough already

Completely and utterly agree with this comment. Seems like recently every report coming out is only highlighting BAME issues and completely ignoring the FACT that these issues are far from localised against BAME. The amount of harassment, bullying and stress white lawyers experience, I would say, is in far greater numbers if purely because there are, proportionally, more of them. So BAME isn’t being treated any differently, that’s just the way our profession sadly is. Putting such a toxic twist on absolutely every topic isn’t going to help any cause, no matter how great it may be.

(38)(17)

Say That To Your Black Colleague’s Face

This is far from the first time BAME people in the legal profession have reported bullying and discrimination.

Do you think each and every one of them is a liar? What exactly is in it for them after they lie about bullying?

Do law firms automatically dispense cash every time a BAME person complains of bullying?? I think they’d prefer having a quiet life and to earn a living without needless drama. You know, like everyone else does.

Zero empathy for the plight of others, ‘whatabout-isms’, excuse after excuse and a total failure to recognise that this isn’t the first time statistics show BAME lawyers being treated less favourably than White lawyers.

I’m embarrassed for you.

(38)(53)

Say That To The Face Of Someone Who Understands Evidence

With “logic” like this, why don’t you try Mumsnet?

The point is that there is no evidence from rubbish like this report that there is material race discrimination. The differences could be equally explained by socioeconomic issues and decent research does show that in fact explains almost all the disparity of the sort referred to in this report as being “race” based. The proposals single out one part of a discriminated group, black candidates and lawyers from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, while prejudicing further another discriminated group, white candidates and lawyers from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, while providing additional help to a group that there is no evidence need help at all, black candidates and lawyers from privileged middle class socioeconomic backgrounds. You cannot say “statistics show BAME lawyers being treated less favourably than White lawyers” unless you moderate for socioeconomic factors that affect professional income.

(47)(16)

Rick

I think more should be done to make BAME members of the profession feel valued and be treated well. The fact that BAME is such a minority is quite stark and noticeable and I don’t think that exactly helps matters. From experience, I think a lot of people within the industry don’t see them for their intellectual merits and instead sexualise BAME lawyers, especially female trainees and junior associates. To me, managing to “get with” a young BAME lawyer does not do any good or help integrate them into the firm. Young BAME members of the profession need mentoring, support, and to be given equal opportunities to progress their careers.

(36)(105)

Jarrod

This is disgraceful. Much more needs to be done.

(19)(35)

Anonymous

Precisely what is disgraceful, Jarrod?

(24)(12)

Sign Of The Times

Variants of a “response” to such sensible quetions include “if you have to ask you will never know”, “if you have to ask you are part of the problem” and the all too common “if you ask that you are a racist”.

(17)(4)

Voice of reason

“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.”

As someone who has worked in both a corporate firm and a legal aid firm these statistics are not reliable without further breakdown. I work much longer hours for much less pay and am much more stressed working in legal aid than I was in corporate. There are far more BAME people working in legal aid. So to imply (as this article does) that these differences are purely on the basis of race is misleading. Comparing different practice areas is apples and oranges.

(43)(10)

Anonymous

The socioeconomic spread is different between City firms and high street criminal legal aid defence work too, which is another reason why the raw figures used in this report are meaningless gibberish. This is self-serving marketing not evidence.

(36)(7)

Ewww

Who does this ‘self-serving marketing’ ‘serve’ exactly?

Do you think lawyers enjoy being victimised, hounded out of work and taking time out of their day to report awful behaviour?

Are we seeing an exodus of White solicitors dismissed from the profession for bullying others?

I would have though it was actually more ‘self-serving’ for BAME lawyers NOT to report bullying for fear of being victimised and losing their income.

(10)(37)

A

“Self-serving” means such reports’ methodologies are tailored to produce the data wanted by the purchaser of the report. And thus the noise in the woke echo chamber booms ever louder. I bet you did not do well at comprehension tests at school, if you have left school yet.

(36)(4)

Oh Dear

You seriously think the Law Society pays to produce reports saying that Black people are being treated unfavourably?

That Apartheid, the US Civil Rights movement, the lack of diversity in banking/entertainment/technology and the death of Black people in custody is all from the ‘self serving’ work of the Law Society?

That Law Society stuffed full of Black people in senior management/Black MC partners and they are all out to ‘get’ White ‘working class’ lawyers and stop them from paying their bills?

What a weird, weird way to look at the world.

Bemused City Law

Interesting comments. Ok (white) guys and gals – let’s do nothing then. Happy?

(9)(32)

Anonymous

Let’s address socioeconomic discrimination and watch the alleged race discrimination all but disappear.

(36)(3)

But...but lawyers could NEVER be racist!!

BAME lawyers report that their White colleagues treat them without empathy and a willingness to accept evidence, and the comments show EXACTLY that.

I’m absolutely shocked that over and over again, BAME lawyers report bullying at work.

Shocked I tells ya!

(8)(30)

Anon

Apparently asking for proper research and regulatory decisions to be evidence based is now racist. Says it all about cancel culture.

(46)(7)

Ewwww

No matter how many reports come to the same conclusion, you will never be convinced about the research and will find excuse after excuse to gaslight the reality of the inequalities Black people experience.

Inequality has been found at the Bar and within every other profession. Was this also lacking in ‘proper research’?

(8)(34)

Anonymous

Yes. The “research” was almost 100% based on self selection, self reporting and failed to adequately moderate for socioeconomic differences or for most of this rubbish failed to take socioeconomic factors into account at all. If the bodies keep procuring reports lazily using such deeply flawed methodologies then they are all as useless as each other. You know these reports are pointless as soon as they include a single quote from an individual at a round table discussion.

Anonymous

Let’s get some real evidence of the what the issues are (i.e. is it race, is it socioeconomic background, is it gender), instead of using reports like this sort of crap to drive mandates from regulators. The woke with an agenda know exactly what they will get when they ask an agency to produce a report using this sort of methodologies. With proper evidence we can do things to address what is really happening.

(28)(5)

Get a grip

“…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 responses here are telling. Not only are majority of you not lawyers but your views seem entirely oblivious to the reality on the ground.

I’m 2NQE at MC. I Went to Oxbridge (already an exception) and come from a middle-upper class mixed race family (I’m *black*) yet have a white sounding name. When I was kept on after TC a partner congratulated a white paralegal. That’s just a minor example which repeatedly occurs throughout my day/career. Meeting clients, other departments…it’s almost assumed I’m the junior.

If you’re not in a company where you understand how diversity data is skewed under the BAME heading you’ve got your head in the sand. 100% agree it’s a societal issue and the representation in the profession overall is improving but there is a lot more work to do. Retention will continue to suffer as black and other ethnic minorities abandon ship for in-house of alternative work in light of some of these challenges.

(9)(35)

Melting Snowflake

As per the 2011 census 3.01% of the population identified as black. So ‘only 3%’ is pretty reflective of population demographics. 87.17% of the population identified as white. So if anyone is underrepresented in the profession it is people who identify as being white.

(24)(6)

Oh Deary, Deary Me

You really think that White people are ‘unrepresented’ in the legal profession?

(9)(13)

Scouser of Counsel

I as a white lawyer thought that racism was something that only ignorant, uneducated nutters manifested in words or actions, usually when drunk.

I thought that institutionalised racism was a thing of the past.

That was until I encountered a case in a predominantly white town where a group of youths (3 white, 1 black) had all been arrested and charged with a series of offences allegedly committed as a group.

All the same age, similar backgrounds, same charges. All had cooperated with the police on arrest.

3 of the group were charged and bailed.

1 was charged and remanded in custody overnight to appear in court.

Now, which clever boy or girl can tell me the skin colour of the one who was remanded?

(15)(35)

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