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Discuss the barriers underrepresented groups face in developing a career in the legal profession, examine the case in favour of diversity, and critically evaluate the effectiveness of measures taken in the legal profession to promote diversity in England

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of the workplace. The Law Society has made the most visible strides in creating the Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) which aims to increase social diversity in the legal profession by “supporting promising entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who face exceptional obstacles to qualification.” In applying for this scheme the applicants are asked to describe the exceptional circumstances which would make it difficult for them to pursue a career in law. The circumstances could be as a result of their gender, ethnicity and education amongst others. This program offers financial assistance through the provision of Legal Practice Course fees, access to relevant high-quality work experience and, in what could be considered the most important aspect, a professional mentor. This sort of positive discrimination is exactly what the profession needs according to Supreme Court Judge, Lady Brenda Hale, who condemns the fact that merit and diversity are seen as competing rather than complementary values and advocates "actively encouraging and supporting able but unusual candidates to apply" . However, the issue of positive discrimination has come under fire from critics who say that it may have a detrimental effect on the quality of the legal profession. Lord Sumption is one of the foremost critics on positive discrimination as he believes that “gender is not relevant to a candidate’s ability to do a job” . The Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLachlan, also condemns the positive discrimination, arguing that judges are “likely to come to the same conclusion irrespective of gender” however she does concede that “women are capable of infusing the law with the unique reality of their life.” Sumption’s main fear is that positive discrimination could “dilute the quality of the bench.” The top male candidates would not apply for fear of being discriminated against while the top women would not apply as they want merit to be a factor in their appointment and not gender. However he does concede that positive discrimination is the only thing likely to significantly accelerate the rate of progress towards a more diverse judiciary.

To conclude, the barriers facing underrepresented groups are numerous however the major barriers that deeply affect chances of career development concern the socio-economic status of a person in question and the male-orientated culture of the legal profession. These two barriers are detrimental to the underrepresented gender, ethnic and socio-economic groups in their ambitions to pursue a successful career in law. Measures have been taken to combat these barriers however these are not without fault and require more work for them to become fully effective. Despite all the efforts to diversify the legal profession, the label of “heterosexual, white, middle-class and male” is set to remain, especially with regards to the higher positions in the sector. It would seem that a lot more time is needed before the legal profession can finally give itself the label of diverse. As Lord Judge said, “The journey to diversity is a long one. It will come. […] The tide is for diversity. The tide is inexorable, and the tide always wins.”

Word Count: 1569



• Erika Rackley, Women, Judging and the Judiciary (1st, Routledge, Oxon 2013) p23

Journal Articles

• Baksi, Catherine ‘Supreme Court justice calls for positive discrimination on the menu’ (The Law Society Gazette 17 November 2012) Available at: - accessed on 5 December 2015

• Hale, Brenda, ‘Equality and the Judiciary: Why Should We Want More Women Judges?’, Public Law, 2001, p.489

• Hodgson, Laura ‘Barriers make ’diversity of minds’ in the legal profession impossible’ (The Law Society Gazette 20 October 2011) Available at: - accessed on 5 December 2015

• Rayner, Jonathan, ‘Women solicitors believe flexible working damages career’ (The Law Society Gazette,25 March 2010) Available at: – accessed on 5 December 2015

• Vaughan, Steven, Going Public: Diversity Disclosures by Large U.K. Law Firms, 83 Fordham L. Rev. 2301 (2015). Available at: - accessed 2 December 2015


• Legal Services Board ‘Barriers to the legal profession’ July 2010 Available at: - accessed on 3 December 2015


• Rolfe, H and Anderson, T (2003) “A firm choice: law firms’ preferences in the recruitment of trainee solicitors.” Commissioned by the Law Society – Available at - accessed on 2 December 2015

• Solicitor’s Regulation Authority ‘Diversity in the legal profession: Workforce data for solicitors’ firms2013/14’, May 2014 Available at: - accessed on 2 December 2015


• Lord Judge, ‘Encouraging Diversity in the Judiciary’, Minority Lawyers Conference, London, 25 April 2009

• Lord Sumption, ‘Home Truths about Judicial Diversity’ (2012), Bar Council Law Reform Lecture, London, 15 November 2012


• Legal Services Act 2007

• Legal Services Act 2007, s1(f)


• Pells, Rachael, ‘’More women judges will improve law’: Britain’s only female Supreme Court judge calls for more diversity’’ (The Independent, 27 July 2014) Available at:


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