Thursday 20 September 2012 by Jonathan Rayner
The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to make unannounced visits to 100 'randomly selected' law firms to assess their compliance with mandatory diversity reporting requirements.
The plan, announced at a Law Society Firms Diversity Forum meeting in Manchester last week, 'went down like a lead balloon', according to one attendee.
The SRA declined to identify the 100 firms, but said visits would help it to understand 'how equality and diversity outcomes are being delivered in practice'.
The visits are in addition to a two-stage profession-wide survey of firms. By 4 September 7,131 firms, out of some 11,000, had completed questionnaires reporting that 186,084 people work for them.
Second-stage questionnaires are to be given to each individual member of staff inviting them to provide information about their ethnicity, age, disabilities and caring responsibilities.
Data will also be collected on sexual orientation, religion or belief, and gender reassignment.
The drive to collect diversity data arises from a statutory requirement, laid down by the Legal Services Board in August 2011, that all law firms and chambers should publish statistical information on the diversity profile of their staff.
The SRA will publish the survey's findings next year, but in subsequent years firms and chambers will be required to publish their own data.
SRA director of inclusion Mehrunnisa Lalani admitted there had been 'some resistance' to providing the type of information requested, but stressed that there was a 'prefer not to say' option if people preferred confidentiality.
Lalani said the visits would help 'capture accurate and complete data about diversity to ensure delivery of the right outcomes'.
Surprise visits were scheduled to begin this month, but have been delayed because of the SRA's imminent move to new Birmingham premises.
The Law Society published a practice note in July to help firms comply with the new requirements to collect diversity data. President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said the new requirement 'will help the Law Society better meet the needs of our diverse membership and promote greater diversity in the profession.'