Birmingham one of worst cities for gender diversity in legal profession, says new report

Birmingham has been named as one of the worst cities for gender diversity in the legal profession, according to a report out today.

Legal research company Chambers and Partners’ annual rankings, which highlights the best law firm departments, solicitors and barristers across the UK in more than 70 practice areas, said continued progress has been made for gender diversity in the sector but that there is significant regional variation between cities in gender equality. London continues to dominate the rankings, with over 50% of ranked solicitors practicing in London, with the exception of personal injury and commercial litigation.

But Birmingham (1.43%) showed one of the largest negative swings in the proportion of ranked female solicitors in the guide, alongside London (1.90%) and Belfast (1.09%). In comparison, Cardiff (3.10%), Edinburgh (3.08%) and Newcastle (2.96%) were the regional cities that showed the strongest increase in ranked female solicitors.

Meanwhile, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales continue to deliver higher gender equality in the legal profession. Belfast (39.93% women), Cardiff (39.88%), Glasgow (39.19%) led the pack, with London (28.98%), Leeds (31.16%) and Bristol (32.32%) the bottom three UK cities.

Chambers’ 2021 solicitor rankings show that newly ranked up-and-coming lawyers – those attaining partner level – have broken the 50% threshold, with 51.07% female/48.93% male, an almost 8% jump compared to last year’s figures. Female lawyers have historically had a lower representation at partnership level, making the parity threshold significant in the UK legal profession.

2021 has also seen a 6% increase in new rankings for female lawyers nationally (47.74% female/52.26% male across all rankings), up from 41.68% female/58.32% male last year.

Diversity statistics for all ranked lawyers in each of the past five editions of Chambers and Partners’ guide has seen steady increases. A 2% overall increase in female representation in the guide this year may seem modest, but compared to the increases between the previous four guides (0.55%, 0.69% and 1.04%), represents a significant increase. The 32.37% female/67.63% male representation still leaves much to be desired, but progress is happening.

The report states it is a well-established fact that female solicitors have better representation at the associate level, however, positively, the UK is practically at break-even point on this front too. In the 2021 guide, 49.55% of ranked associates are female, compared to 50.45% male.

Barrister statistics sit lower, with 26% of women in the 2021 UK Bar Guide, an increase of 2% from the previous year, and a 4% overall increase since 2016, showing slow progress for gender equality at the Bar in the UK. A more promising statistic, of the top 100 new up-and-coming rankings in the 2021 UK Bar Guide, 47% were held by women, a significant increase from 30% in the 2020 guide.

As of June 2019 Chambers has actively encouraged firms to provide 50% diverse lawyers for interviews and encouraged firms to provide 50% client referees. Interviews also now include D&I questions as part of the process.

Other significant findings from the 2021 Rankings show: 

London is an international commercial litigation hub, showing no signs of slowing during COVID-19 and amid Brexit. Particularly, London law firms take on a significant amount of litigation work from Russia and the CIS area. In this year’s rankings, Hogan Lovells came out in front. Other strong market share for London firms is seen in European jurisdictions and the Middle East (with Eversheds leading the way), and Africa (Norton Rose Fulbright with the biggest share). This feeds into the debate about whether offshore jurisdictions will decline post-Brexit.

The UK has also seen a rise in judicial reviews involving central government departments. Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been critical of judicial reviews, Chambers and Partners’ research shows which firms have been most active and successful in both challenging and defending the government, with Blackstone, Landmark, and 39 Essex leading the way.

Tim Noble, CEO, Chambers UK, said: “Chambers is the largest independent, global legal research business with over 200 dedicated research analysts, producing in-depth analysis and client insights for all areas of the legal profession. We pride ourselves on our qualitative and quantitative research, and find this year’s rankings paint a brighter picture for the future of diversity in the industry so long as the firm can retain this diverse talent. Promoting diversity is important to us at Chambers, and through greater awareness, and inclusion programmes, we are seeing progress.”

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