While the legal profession has been making efforts to become more diversified over the years, a major survey carried out by the Law Society of Scotland earlier this year made it clear there is still a long way to go to make it truly inclusive.

Diversity questions were included for the first time in the 2020/21 practising certificate (PC) renewal process, with the aim of giving a better understanding of what the profession looks like to support and advance the Law Society’s equality and diversity work.

With around 80 per cent of members completing the data, it provided the most comprehensive picture of the diversity of the profession to date, how it compares to the wider Scottish population and the challenges the profession faces.

Solicitors were asked for information on their ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation and social background, including the type of school they mainly attended and what their parents’ occupation was.

It found that the Scottish legal profession is getting more ethnically diverse, but more slowly than the wider population. More than 88 per cent of the profession is white, with just over three per cent coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.

And while a solicitor’s socio-economic background does not appear to affect their career progression once they are in the profession, it seems more difficult for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to become lawyers to begin with.

President of the Law Society of Scotland Ken Dalling said: “Whilst it is heartening to see that the profession is becoming more diverse, there is still progress to be made.”

Individual law firms have been making efforts to increase the diversity of their employees. Nick Scott, managing partner at Brodies, says: “Diversity and inclusion is an area in the legal sector where progress has been made, but improvement continues to be required.”

He adds that this year marks the tenth anniversary of PRIME, the work experience-based initiative that
aims to encourage greater diversity in the legal profession.

As a board member of the initiative, he says he would encourage as many Scottish firms as possible to make the PRIME commitment and play their part in helping to create more opportunities across the profession.

Along with more of a focus on diversity and inclusion, many law firms are also upping their efforts on health and wellbeing.

Peter Lawson, chair at Burness Paull, says: “Over the past two years the inclusion and wellbeing agenda has grown exponentially in tandem with the increasing emphasis on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) for responsible employers, and we anticipate this trend will continue, and so this year we became the first corporate law firm to appoint a dedicated inclusion and wellbeing manager.

“Emma Smith works in partnership with colleagues across the firm to embed the core values of respect, inclusion and wellbeing in everything we do, to ensure equal opportunities for all and to promote a workplace culture where all of our people can succeed.”

This year, Burness Paull is also partnering with the Robertson Trust to offer a legal ‘Career Pathway’, supporting Robertson Trust scholars with training and guidance through workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities.

The Pathway is designed to give scholars the opportunity to gain access to the firm’s summer internship scheme, with a view to securing a traineeship.

The firm has also been awarded ‘Menopause Friendly Accreditation’.

It has a policy framework and a range of training, support and resources in place, including trained menopause champions’, to ensure ongoing support is available to colleagues impacted by the menopause.