Diversity in the solicitors' profession is increasing, but only slowly, according to statistics published today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors has increased by 0.5% this year, according to the SRA's diversity monitoring statistics, which also identify a 'gradual' increase in the proportion of female solicitors over the past three years.
Of the 136,081 solicitors in the practising population, 85% are white and 15% BME. Breaking down the latter group, 8% of solicitors declare themselves as Asian, 2% black, 1% Chinese, 1% mixed and 2% from other ethnic groups.
The partner population showed a similar trend to the solicitor practising population over the past three years with a gradual increase in the proportion of BME and female partners and a fall in the proportion of younger partners.
Overall, 89% of partners are white and 11% BME: 7% Asian, 2% black, 0.5% Chinese, 0.5% mixed, 1% from other groups.
While 47% of solicitors are women, there is still a marked disparity in career progression, with women making up only 27% of partners.
The statistics show a drop in the proportion of young solicitors (aged 22-30) over the past three years. There are proportionally more younger female solicitors than male solicitors - 62% of female solicitors are 40 or under, while 39% of male solicitors are 40 or under.
BME solicitors are more likely to be in small firms: 61% of BME individuals work as sole practitioners or in firms with 2-4 partners. Only 10% are in firms with more than 81 partners.
The total number of individuals referred to the SDT has fallen for the second consecutive year, from 390 in 2011, to 180 in 2012, to 106 in 2013. The BME proportion of solicitors referred to the SDT has also fallen, from 35% in 2011 to 32% in 2012 to 28% in 2013.
Commenting on the data, the SRA's executive director for strategy Richard Collins (pictured) said the 'relatively slow pace of change' within the diversity of the profession is concerning.
Entry into the profession, he said, is 'looking better' for women and BME solicitors, but career progression is the issue.
Collins did not think the problem was due to any direct discrimination on the part of firms.
He suggested: 'Patterns and ways of doing things have built up over the years. It is not something the SRA can solve by ourselves,' said Collins.
'Rather firms need to accept the information and put in a lot of senior management time to change it.'