The requirement to report diversity data
The SRA requires that all regulated firms collect, report and publish data about the diversity make-up of their workforce. This must be done every two years. Firms have until 1st July to report their diversity data – a somewhat tight deadline given that the reporting site only became active on 4th June.
The requirement applies only to law firms and not in-house lawyers.
Firms that have not already collected diversity data from their partners and staff should do so now. To make sure that they are collecting the correct data the SRA have produced a new Diversity Questionnaire which can be downloaded from the SRA website in Word format. This differs from the form produced in 2017 in so far as it has minor changes in relation to trans, sexual orientation, schooling and parental education questions and asks a new question about parental occupation. If you have already collected data using the 2017 form, this should be a problem when it comes to reporting.
It is worth bearing in mind that whilst there is currently no specific regulations requiring you to collect data in this way, that the SRA still regard this as a regulatory duty and cite Principle 9 in the Handbook and Chapter 2 of the Code of Conduct. The forthcoming Standards and Regulations which come into force in November 2019 have, however, made it regulatory requirement. Regulation 1.5 of the Code of Conduct for Firms provides that “You monitor, report and publish workforce diversity data, as prescribed”. If a firm feels that it is unable to publish its data – for example because it is so small that individuals would be able to be identified or because there are social or safety issues at stake, then the firm should record the reasons why it is not publishing data. A waiver not to publish is not currently required, although this may change under the new regulations. However, note that the SRA may follow up a publication by your firm.
Are partners and staff obliged to give their details?
Inevitably the questions in the form are intrusive and partners and staff may be reluctant to provide the information requested. They cannot be required to do so but the SRA would like to see firms encouraging them to do so. They can of course also choose not to answer any part of the questionnaire.
The SRA suggests that everyone is told how their data will be used and who will have access to it in the hope that this will allay fears.
Those who work for more than one firm are only expected to complete one questionnaire which should be for the firm they do most work for, spend most time with or have worked for the longest period. Consultants on contracts of 3 months or over should be included.
The firm does not have to carry out the exercise itself – it can if it wishes use an outsourced company – but it will still be the firm that needs to report the data using mySRA.
Infolegal can assist your firm in collecting and analysing the data for you if you wish. Please contact Duncan Finlyson (email@example.com) for further details. Prices are very reasonable and based on the size of the firm.
Data protection issues
Any firm collecting data of this sort must make sure that they comply with data protection legislation in relation to the collection, storage and processing of diversity information. be especially aware that data reported to the SRA can be seen by all authorised signatories and organisation contacts for your firm.
Data can, if you wish, be collected on an anonymous basis. Many members of staff may prefer this. However, the SRA believe that the information can be more useful if linked to individuals, for example by reference to a confidential identification number, and used to monitor a range of employment activities over time, such as promotion, pay rates, or recruitment practices.
If you do intend to link data to individuals then you may wish to reassure everyone that the information they provide will be kept confidential and secure.
Diversity data should not be published in such a way that individuals can be identified. For that reason those who are sole practitioners or in small firms may find they are unable to publish their data. Also, there is no requirement to publish information that relates to religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender and given its sensitivity you may feel it is safer not to do so.
The SRA advice that in order to minimise the risk of identifying individuals the firm could:
- Merge role categories to show a high level breakdown of the data, for example by partner, other fee earner and support staff.
- Publish data across the whole firm.
- Show the high level ethnicity categories rather than the detailed sub categories.
Collecting diversity data
You should bear in mind that the collection of data needs to be from everyone working at the firm and not just legally qualified staff. It should include both full-time and part-time employees (including those on sick-leave or maternity leave) and temporary employees and contracted staff who have been or will be with the firm for 3 months or longer. The firm should not include those to whom work has been outsourced, barristers or experts engaged on individual matters and those outside, or normally outside, England and Wales
Everyone from whom information is collected should be put into one of the following categories. Those in more than one should select the main role and where an anonymous survey is being undertaken the firm must ensure that staff know which role category they come under. The categories are:
- Solicitor partner (sole practitioner, member or director)
- Solicitor (non-partner)
- Other fee-earner
- Fee-earner direct support
- IT/HR/other corporate services role
- Chartered Legal Executive (Fellow)/CILEx Practitioner
- Licensed Conveyancer
- Patent or Trade Mark Attorney
- Costs Lawyer
- Prefer not to say
Note that the “prefer not to say” category is important if a department is small and providing the information would enable a person to be easily identified.
Report your law firm diversity data to the SRA
You can report your firm diversity data to the SRA. You should do so before 1 July 2019 by logging in to their reporting site – https://notify.sra.org.uk/ . You will need your mySRA username and password in order to do so. You will need to have analysed the data so that it can be inputted. This means that you will need to have organised data by reference to the role categories, you will need to know how many people did not respond to the survey.
The SRA provide a user guide to reporting diversity data.
Diversity data should be made available to staff and externally. You can publish the information on the firm’s website or use a poster or report in the office reception area and/or meeting rooms or place an article on the firm’s intranet or in a staff bulletin or simply inform everyone by email.
Information should, whether on a website or elsewhere, be easy to find and understand and you might choose to include tables and charts and cross-informational comparisons e.g. how many fee-earning staff were the first in their family to attend university. The use of bar charts and pie charts will assist.
For more information go to www.sra.org.uk/diversitydata