England: Study to examine disproportionate complaints to SRA about non-white solicitors
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in England and Wales has commissioned the Universities of York, Cardiff, and Lancaster to lead a new independent review into why it receives more reports about Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors than their white colleagues.
The project will also review the regulator’s decision making at the assessment stage, to understand why a greater proportion of cases involving Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors are taken forward for investigation.
The SRA’s latest data for 2020/21 The SRA’s latest data for 2020/21 shows that while Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors make up 18 per cent of the practising population, 25 per cent of individuals reported to the SRA and 33 per cent of those whose cases were taken forward for investigation are Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors.
A previous review in 2014 looking at the SRA’s internal processes found no evidence of discrimination but did make a number of recommendations. The SRA reported on its progress in implementing the recommendations when it resumed publication of its diversity monitoring data in 2020.
Unlike previous reviews, this project will focus on establishing the reasons why the SRA receives such a disproportionate number of complaints against Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors.
It will look to establish whether the disproportionate reporting of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors is related to specific types of reports, as well as understanding what other factors arising from the structure of the legal sector and wider society are driving this difference.
“The SRA recognised this problem some years ago,” said Professor Claudia Gabbioneta, chair in accounting and management at the School for Business and Society at the University of York and project lead.
“Essentially, we want to understand why there are more complaints about Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors than their white counterparts, as well as understanding the role of the SRA’s assessment stage. We will be bringing expertise in data analysis and using innovative tools to better understand the information the SRA has about the complaints it receives, as well as looking at the wider landscape and engaging with solicitors about their experience in the sector. This will give us insight into the factors that may make Black, Asian and minority solicitors more vulnerable to complaints than White solicitors.”
“We have access to more data about different types of cases than other studies,” said Professor Gabbioneta. “We hope to be able to use that data to establish whether the overrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors in the cases that go forward for investigation is therefore specific to any particular type of complaint.”
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, added: “We are committed to understanding what is happening to drive the longstanding overrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethic solicitors in our enforcement work. We have made significant changes to our enforcement processes and reformed our regulation over the last few years, but the pattern remains the same – as it is for so many regulators - and it is unclear why that is the case. Since 2007 we have held three independent reviews into our processes to make sure they are fair and free from bias, and none found any evidence of discrimination.
“There could be many factors affecting the troubling picture we are seeing, including wider societal issues or structural features in the legal sector, for example the different diversity profile of small firms compared to large firms. Having a better understanding of the causes will help us and others address these issues.”