The Independent View: Fair access to the professions – where the legal profession leads, others must follow

Old Bailey: the scales of justiceShortly after becoming Deputy Prime Minister in 2010, Nick Clegg made an important speech in which he said that the Government’s agenda would be to create “a more prosperous economy and a fairer… more socially mobile society”. The legal profession is making a vital contribution to this mission.

A more socially mobile society

The legal services sector is at the forefront of efforts to increase social mobility. The Law Society is adamant that the solicitors’ profession must have access to the best talent, irrespective of background. Indeed, that is why we and our members have been working on the issue for so long.

Our ambition is clear, we want the profession to be widely recognised as a meritocracy where the sole criteria for entry and advancement are integrity, ability and hard work.

The statistics starkly highlight the extent of recent progress. The latest edition of Trends in the Solicitors’ Profession shows that women now make up almost 50% of all solicitors on the Roll and substantially more than half (63.5%) of all trainees.

There has also been substantial progress in respect of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic solicitors. In 2011, BAME solicitors made up 12% of the Roll (compared to 7.9% nationally) and 22.1%of all trainees.

This progress led the Coalition Government’s adviser on social mobility Alan Milburn, in his review of fair access to the professions, to write that “In some cases, the legal sector is at the forefront of driving activity aimed at changing access to professional jobs… We commend these efforts and would like to see other professions following suit”.

We recognise that there is still further to go, particular to increase diversity among top roles, and also among the judiciary. It is for these reasons that continuing dialogue between the Society and the Deputy Prime Minister is so valuable. The Society will remain at the forefront of these efforts, and stands ready to work with all other interested bodies to achieve meritocracy in the sector.

A more prosperous economy

The UK legal services market as a whole directly contributed almost £26bn (or close to 2% of GDP) to the UK economy in 2010, and – by rapidly and efficiently resolving disputes – indirectly contributed much more.

Lawyers trained in England and Wales, and law firms based here in UK, are respected across the globe for their expertise. It is because UK firms are regarded as global leaders in international and commercial dispute resolution that four of the largest seven law firms in the world are based in London, and UK firms exported almost £3.6bn worth of legal services in 2010.

The Law Society is working closely with the Coalition Government to increase these exports in the future. By November this year, the Society will have accompanied the Justice Secretary and other trade ambassadors such as the Lord Mayor on trade missions to all of the emerging markets: promoting British legal expertise overseas, and bringing benefits for the economy back to the UK.

As the economy emerges from the recession, it is vital that that the country builds on its strengths to support recovery. There are few areas where Britain is stronger than in legal services.

* Nick Fluck is the Vice President of the Law Society, the representative professional body for the Solicitors’ profession in England and Wales. He will be hosting a reception during the Liberal Democrat autumn conference between 6 and 8pm on Monday 24 September. If you wish to attend please contact Richard.Heinrich [AT] lawsociety.org.uk

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2 Comments

  • Richard Dean 18th Sep '12 - 4:11pm

    We Civil Engineers are way ahead of Law, and we are straining at the leash of government cuts to get the economy moving too.

    http://www.ice.org.uk
    http://www.icevirtuallibrary.com/content/serial/cien

  • Ed Shepherd 19th Sep '12 - 7:17pm

    Whar this article fails to address is the cost of qualifying as a solicitor and discrimnation in the allocation of training contracts. It is the cost of qualifying and the way in which the existing members of the profession abuses the allocation of training contracts that is the main cause of discrimination in that part of the legal profession. The cost of gaining the necessary qualifications stops most students from poorer backgrounds from ever entering the profession. For those who do manage to get the qualifications, the allocation of training contracts ensures that those from backgrounds that the existing profession dislike do not ever have a chance to practice. The writer quotes some impressive sounding statistics about the proportion of women and ethnci minorities who are entering the profession but he does not say what proportion of those entrants are from wealthy backgrounds or already have family contacts within the legal profession. Restricting the number of entrants also has the effect of increasing fees paid by clients who want to access legal services. The only solution is to remove the need for the expensive qualifications and the unobtainable training contracts. Open legal services to the market. Let those who are good enough to do the job set up their own companies and remove barriers based on class or wealth.

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