Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division

Should all firms have a equality and diversity (E&D) compliance officer?

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Sophie Khan thinks they should

Since Liz Truss MP was appointed lord chancellor, being the first female to be appointed to the role and only the second non-lawyer, the lack of diversity in the judiciary and at the senior levels of law firms has come to the forefront. It is the first time that ‘diversity’ of the legal profession has reached such importance that it can no longer be ignored by the senior managers of law firms. Action to address the disparity in the employment and progression of ethnic minority lawyers is now a must, no longer a maybe.

For those of us who have been campaigning for a fairer, more equal and more diverse legal profession this commitment by the lord chancellor bolsters our cause and we should do all we can to assist her to make it a reality. But what of the roles of our professional body and our regulator in this ‘drive for diversity’? What part must they play in bringing about a change in the cultural fabric of law firms?

During my term as a solicitor member of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee I saw the void that existed in the SRA’s policy on diversity and the total lack of any comprehensive approach to challenging the status quo that existed at law firms.

To address this issue, I proposed that the SRA develop a policy to appoint a compliance officer for diversity, inclusion and equality (CODIE) to report on diversity, inclusion and equality issues experienced by their firm. This would be similar to the way the compliance officers for legal practice (COLP) and compliance officers for finance and administration (COFA) reporting on issues on legal practice and financial administration.

The CODIE would be responsible for the firm’s diversity, inclusion and equality policy and would be tasked with developing ‘good practice’ and initiatives in creating a fairer, more equal and more diverse workforce.

Although, the SRA did not take the proposal forward at the time, it seems that the SRA must now review its policy in light of the lord chancellor’s intervention and use its regulatory powers to ‘drive’ law firms to a position where ethnic minority lawyers become part of the fabric and future of their firm. In having a CODIE, who will be responsible for the administration of diversity, inclusion and equality, with the same reporting mechanisms as the COLP and COFA, the creation of a fairer, more equal and more diverse legal profession will become a reality for the first time.

A ‘diverse judiciary’ will inevitably take time but ultimately this cannot be achieved if our regulator does not recognise that a CODIE is the only viable route to make this happen.

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