Truss: 'Diversity for talent's sake'
More than one-third of law firms now majority-owned by women
The Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has reiterated her call for a more diverse judiciary and legal profession, remarking that only widening the talent pool from which senior lawyers and judges are drawn will make the UK’s justice system stronger at a time of increasing international competition.
‘Our brilliant legal system needs to reflect the diverse nature of our society, and a justice system which represents everyone improves public confidence and trust,’ the first female Lord Chancellor and justice secretary said after an event to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March.
‘I want to see more women and ethnic minorities in the judiciary and in senior levels of law firms, but I’ve been clear this is not diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s about talent for talent’s sake,’ said Truss, adding that the ‘best and the brightest’ lawyers and judges should come ‘from every background’.
‘If you have the skills, the drive, and the talent to reach the top of your profession then it’s vital we tap into this so we can continue to lead the world in the increasingly competitive legal services sector,’ added Truss. ‘International Women’s Day is a reminder there is more to be done, but my message is clear – when you widen the pool of talent from which lawyers and judges are drawn, you make the justice system stronger.’
Truss’ comments came after it was revealed that vacancies for High Court judges are increasingly being left unfilled due to a shortage of suitable applicants in recent years. The Judicial Appointments Commission has been charged with overseeing competitions for 25 new High Court judges and 100 of ‘the best’ recorders this year.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee was told last month that solicitors often don’t apply to become judges as their firms rarely encourage them to gain the relevant experience.
Truss was attending an event at Inner Temple last night, which was hosted by Women In Law London, a grassroots network designed to provide talented female lawyers with contacts and mentoring to improve the retention of female talent in the profession and help identify barriers to senior partnership.
Launched in 2014, WILL’s network now has over 2,400 members in both private practice and in-house legal teams from over 350 different firms and companies.
WILL is the brainchild of five London-based lawyers: Sascha Grimm, an associate at Cooley, Sophie Bragg, a managing associate at Mishcon de Reya, Ellen Hughes-Jones, an associate at Locke Lord, Fatema Orjela, an equity partner at Sidley Austin, and Suzanne Szczetnikowicz, a senior associate at Milbank.
Szczetnikowicz, who is the chair of WILL, said: ‘Greater diversity of workforce in a service sector business makes for, among other things, a more creative approach to problem solving, flexibility and innovation in policy making, and a wider range of longer-lasting client relationships.
‘We want to continue to encourage and empower our members individually as well as to drive change at a firm and professional level. Firms and businesses need to ensure that diversity and inclusion becomes a true core value implemented at all levels. They should maintain a dialogue with their women and make sure that they are not, even unconsciously, opting women out.’
Szczetnikowicz explained that WILL’s aim is to help ‘move the needle’ so the fact that the majority of entrants to the solicitor profession have been female for the past 20 years is much more closely reflected in the proportions at the highest levels.
Women now make up 48 per cent of solicitors and over the past two decades have accounted for more than half of new entrants to the profession, reaching a record high of 61 per cent in 2015. However, despite the steady rise in women entrants to the profession, only 29 per cent of partners are female.
New figures released this week ahead of International Women’s Day revealed that more than one-third of law firms in England and Wales are now estimated to be majority-owned by women.
An estimated 34 per cent of the 9,403 law firms in England and Wales in 2015 were majority-owned by women compared to a national estimate of women-owned SMEs of 21 per cent.
‘The proportion of law firms majority-owned by women far outstrips the national estimate of women-owned SMEs, reflecting the changing culture in the legal sector,’ said the Law Society president, Robert Bourns.
‘As the professional body for solicitors, we see real power in diversity and support progress for the best, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, so our profession reflects the population it serves.’
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal