01 Nov 2021

Top UK law firms launch industry 'collective' to boost race and ethnic diversity

Magic Circle quintet among eight founding firms seeking sector-wide approach to achieve 'a more sustainable impact'

Social justice together as a crowd of diverse people with a law symbol representing community legislation and equal rights or legal lawyer icon with 3D illustration elements.

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The UK's five Magic Circle law firms have joined forces with three other leading practices to launch an initiative to tackle the underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethinic groups in the UK legal profession.

The group of eight firms launched Legal CORE – with CORE standing for collaboration on race and ethnicity –  last Wednesday (27 October) having teamed up last year to discuss ways to address diversity issues within the legal sector. 

The founding members comprise Magic Circle quintet Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May, along with Herbert Smith Freehills, Macfarlanes and Norton Rose Fulbright.

The collective’s plans and strategies will be led by the diversity and inclusion leads from each of the eight founding firms, while a separate leadership group made up of senior-level partners will steer their respective firms' commitment to the group’s guiding principles. 

Norton Rose Fulbright’s EMEA chair Farmida Bi and Slaughters executive partner Paul Stacey will serve as co-chairs of Legal CORE, with A&O managing partner Gareth Price and recently appointed Linklaters managing partner Paul Lewis and several other senior-level partners also set to join the leadership team. 

The announcement follows a year when many UK law firms stepped up their diverstiy and inclusion strategies by hiring dedicated diversity partners and unveiling diversity targets. However, research by The Law Society of England Wales paints a bleak picture of diversity in the legal sector.

Among findings outlined in a Law Society Race for Inclusion infographic are that twice as many white solicitors in top 50 UK law firms as those from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups achieve partner equivalent status. Furthermore, discrimination is reported by 13% of black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors and 16% report bullying, compared to 8% and 13% respectively for their white counterparts.

“We know there needs to be a deeper focus on Black representation and an improvement across other ethnicities at law firms,” said Stacey . “When we came together as a group last year we were all in agreement that by acting unilaterally, firms can make progress, but ultimately we all have similar challenges, so a sector-wide approach will have a more sustainable impact.”

The collective, which is inviting other firms to join and has its own website, will be running several initiatives over the next couple months including leadership and best practice forums, in firm representatives will be able to come together to share ideas on how to facilitate change. 

Bi described the collective’s goal as not to “replicate existing work” but rather be “action oriented” by acting as a convening body for law firms and providing a place where professionals and firms can crowdsource collaborative and innovative solutions to address underrepresentation issues. 

“Legal CORE is different in that we are independent and law firm-led and therefore closer to the challenges that need to be addressed within private practice,” she added. “We all know that collaboration is a powerful incentive to keep attention fixed on progress over the longer term, so we’re really excited about this initiative.”

 

 

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