The regulator has released data revealing an ethnicity disparity in solicitors facing regulatory investigations.
In its second annual report following its review on upholding professional standards for 2018-2019, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) highlights diversity and gender issues relating to those involved in SRA enforcement or subject to solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) action.
The review looked at more than 9,500 reports and 3,600 investigations around issues ranging from sexual harassment to money laundering
The SRA found that a quarter (26%) of concerns raised with the regulator related to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors.
Almost a third (32%) of cases then investigated by the SRA involved BAME solicitors, with a similar number of cases concluded by the SRA/SDT for ethnicity
However, just 18% of the overall solicitor population is BAME.
More men than women were also the subject of reported concerns and ensuing SRA investigations.
Although half the solicitor population is male, 67% of concerns raised and 73% of SRA investigations related to men.
Findings against men by the SDT rose to 85%.
SRA chair Anna Bradley said that the reporting “again shows an over representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in both the concerns raised with us and then investigated, when compared to the diversity of the profession as a whole”.
She added: “We must look at what is happening here.
“We have made significant changes to our enforcement processes and reformed our regulation over the last few years but the picture remains the same and it is unclear why that is the case.”
The regulator has held three independent reviews into its processes since 2007 and, said Bradley, no evidence of bias or discrimination has been found.
However, she said the SRA will take another look at its decision-making.
“We will commission independent research into this complex area”, she said, “reaching out to the profession, key groups and expert voices as we shape this work.”
The regulator also said it will work to increase the number of individuals who disclose diversity characteristics to the SRA and undertake ongoing publication of diversity monitoring information.
It also said it will continue building on its wider work to promote and support diversity in the profession; and support the small firms where many BAME solicitors work.
Though the profession is more diverse than a few years ago, BAME solicitors are still overrepresented among sole practitioners (39%); and overrepresented in firms mainly doing criminal and private client work (33% and 40%, respectively).
However, the Law Society of England and Wales described the disparity as "extremely concerning".
Its president David Greene commented: "We welcome the SRA commissioning independent research into the matter.
"This research must be undertaken as a priority so that the SRA can better understand the issues which may be causing unfairness and focus on resolving them as soon as possible.
“Our recent ‘Race For Inclusion’ report found that black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors face barriers to progression at every stage of their career – including microaggressions, the ethnicity pay gap, and pressure to fit into a certain culture."
He added: "We must ensure that within our profession, there is equality at all stages and solicitors’ chances of being complained about or investigated are not influenced by race or ethnicity.”