Kate Beioley | 17 November 2021 | Read here on the Financial Times

Exodus from industry in early years results in less diversity at senior levels

Mid-ranking black lawyers in the UK’s largest law firms are four times as likely to leave than their white peers, according to new research tracking the attrition of ethnic minority legal staff from top-tier groups.

Data from 35 of the UK’s biggest law firms including the elite “magic circle” Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Freshfields showed a fall in the number of black lawyers in the years after they qualified.

“Attrition for junior black lawyers is significantly higher than for other ethnic minority and white lawyers,” said Rare, the diversity recruitment company that analysed the data. It noted there were “clear spikes in the attrition of black lawyers” at the stage of qualification, and for third and seventh-year associates. That in turn led to a lower proportion of black lawyers at partner level.

“By [seven years post qualification] there are very few black lawyers left,” Rare said.

According to the study, half the black lawyers who qualified in 2016 have since left, compared with 12 per cent of white lawyers who qualified in the same year.

The research chimes with reports showing black, Asian and minority ethnic partners are under-represented in senior roles at the largest law firms. In a report published last year, trade body the Law Society found just 8 per cent of partners in the largest 50 firms identified as black or minority ethnic, and Bame solicitors were twice as likely to be working as sole practitioners.

Black and minority ethnic solicitors make up about a fifth of all lawyers in the UK, according to the lawyers’ regulator for England and Wales, and about 3 per cent of those are black — mirroring the wider UK population.

Rare’s data did not reveal where the black lawyers who left their roles ended up, but showed they had not moved to another of the firms in the survey. The report analysed data for lawyers who chose to disclose their ethnicity, so is not a complete picture of the racial make-up of the 35 firms that shared their research.

However, the report does reveal a snapshot of attrition of black lawyers at the higher levels of law firms, which was “significantly higher than for other ethnic minority and white lawyers” according to Rare.

Across the 35 firms surveyed, there were fewer than 10 black lawyers with nine years of experience. There were also no more than 10 black fifth, sixth, seventh and eight-year associates. There were 543 white fifth-year associates, and 120 other ethnic minority associates in that cohort.

According to Raph Mokades, managing director of Rare, firms are diversifying at the most junior end of the profession, with 32 per cent of intakes identifying as black and minority ethnic.

He said: “Most of our longstanding clients now recruit graduate classes that are as ethnically diverse as the population, and in many cases more so. But ethnic diversity at entry level has not led to sufficient ethnic diversity at management level.”