England: Report on race bias in legal complaints reveals complex picture
A research project suggests that socio-cognitive biases might be a factor in the disproportionate number of misconduct complaints brought against English and Welsh solicitors from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The first report of the study, commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and aiming to explore the long-standing over-representation of BAME lawyers in disciplinary outcomes and complaints, points to no simple explanation.
However, the review highlights that socio-cognitive biases, which can impair rational judgement of service providers, is a recurring theme in other sectors.
Another potential reason relates to the nature of the work BAME solicitors undertake. The review suggests that BAME solicitors may be more represented in work areas or firm environments that are inherently more likely to result in complaints.
Over the past 15 years, the SRA has initiated several projects examining the disparity in complaints against solicitors from minority ethnic backgrounds. A 2014 review led by Professor Gus John found no institutional racism within the regulator, although it did not investigate the imbalance in raised complaints.
Statistics from 2020/21 demonstrate the imbalance: Asian solicitors constituted 12 per cent of the practising population, but 18 per cent of those reported to the SRA and 25 per cent of those under investigation. Black solicitors, representing three per cent of the practising population, made up 4 per cent of those reported to the SRA and five per cent of those investigated.
The current project, undertaken by the universities of York, Cardiff, and Lancaster, was commissioned by the SRA a year ago. The next steps involve surveys, in-depth interviews, and statistical analysis of SRA datasets to discern themes.