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Regulators to crack down on behaviour that undermines inclusion

Legal sector regulators including the Legal Services Board, Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers have signed a commitment to tackle misconduct that undermines efforts to improve inclusion.

The Legal Services Board, which published the commitment, said that, while there have been some improvements in diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, it is still much more difficult for women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and LGBTQ+ individuals to progress as lawyers.

It believes that many of the barriers to a successful legal career arise as a result of misconduct by legal professionals, including workplaces that appear to tolerate bullying and discrimination because of race, sex, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics.

It has outlined three principles it believes will tackle “counter-inclusivity”:

  • Challenging and dealing appropriately with conduct which intentionally or unintentionally narrows or denies opportunities to people because of their background or characteristics
  • Taking every opportunity to ensure the seriousness of misconduct is reflected within standards, codes and approaches to disciplinary action
  • Ensuring a consistent message to promote understanding across the legal sector that counter-inclusive behaviour and misconduct will be tackled effectively

Matthew Hill, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, said: “Today’s announcement affirms our collective commitment to doing everything we can to create a profession that is the most open and inclusive in the world. Everyone should feel safe at work, and we will work together to tackle and stamp out exclusionary conduct, including inappropriate banter, bullying and sexual misconduct.

“Developing more inclusive workplaces will not only help deliver more professional services, but it will ensure people can contribute different ideas and fresh thinking that will lead to innovation across the sector.”

Paul Philip, CEO of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said: “Discrimination or harassment in the workplace is totally unacceptable – not only because it is wrong and likely unlawful, but it undermines opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to progress and succeed.

“For our part, we are consulting on adding new rules to explicitly spell out what we expect from firms and individuals on workplace culture, including the need to treat colleagues fairly and with respect. If they fail to do, we will take action where necessary to protect the interest of clients and public.”

The commitment has also been signed by the Bar Standard Board, CILEx Regulation, Costs Lawyer Standard Board, The Faculty Office, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Intellectual Property Board.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and The Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service Registrar have signed a separate commitment to ensure that management, training, procedures and policies are in place to enable tribunals to impose sanctions that mark the seriousness of sexual misconduct, discrimination or bullying. They believe this will act as a deterrent and encourage the reporting of misconduct.

Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce welcomed the commitments and said: “We have long stated the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession and legal services.

“We all have a role to play in building a more diverse and inclusive profession. We know there are still obstacles faced by different groups in getting in and getting on as our own research shows.

“There are no broad-brush solutions to these challenges, but we are working to understand the different experiences of members of our profession and how we can play our part in removing the barriers that do still exist.”

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