Lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds face discrimination from employers

Lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds face discrimination from employers

7 October 2021

CILEX calls on fellow professional bodies and regulators to join summit on crisis of culture in the legal profession

Lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds face discrimination and a lack of respect from employers despite their qualifications and experience, new research has found.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) reports today that persistent socio-economic, racial and gender-based barriers continue to obstruct ‘levelling up’ across the legal profession. 

It is the third study of work experiences in less than a fortnight to highlight the challenges that the legal sector is not facing up to: research published separately last week by LawCare*  and the Bar Council**  showed widespread problems with mental health, discrimination, bullying and harassment. 

The overriding message from the survey of 2,041 CILEX members was that solicitors wrongly and arrogantly considered them to be lesser lawyers. 

Researchers at top diversity consultancy The Pipeline said: “These views were widespread. It seems akin to them working daily in a ‘hostile environment’. The barriers that all CILEX members face are compounded further if you are female, ethnic minority, or went to a non-selective state school.” 

The survey shows: 

  • Almost half of ethnic minority respondents (47%) have experienced discrimination in their careers 
  • Just 34% of ethnic minority CILEX lawyers and 49% of White ones think their employers seek to promote people from diverse backgrounds into leadership positions
  • At least a third of CILEX lawyers from ethnic minorities and/or non-traditional backgrounds think their employer does not offer equal opportunities
  • The vast majority feel that despite their being better qualified and more experienced, CILEX Lawyers were passed over for promotion
  • 70% believe they are paid less than others for doing exactly the same work. 

CILEX Lawyers (76% of whom are women and 17% from BAME backgrounds) qualify through working experience and not via the traditional university and training contract/pupillage route. Recognised in law as equal in standing to solicitors and barristers, these specialist lawyers are judges and partners in law firms and yet these findings show that they continue to feel excluded and treated as second-class citizens. 

CILEX is calling on the other representative and regulatory bodies in the sector – such as the Law Society, Bar Council and Legal Services Board – to join an urgent summit to discuss how this crisis can be properly tackled. 

Findings from the CILEX survey further reveal that:

  • 82% of CILEX members argue that justice is losing out because of discrimination against them
  • 81% of respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds say CILEX lawyers always get passed over for promotion compared with lawyers from traditional routes into law
  • 85% of respondents believe that good CILEX lawyers make access to justice affordable to more people
  • 73% of respondents report that can’t be themselves at work and must work hard to fit in 

Professor Chris Bones, Chair of CILEX, believes that the findings underline a growing issue about work, jobs and management across the legal sector. 

“This study is deeply worrying, not just in terms of the treatment of lawyers who don’t fit the traditional mould, but also that it mirrors in many ways the research from the Bar Council and LawCare in flagging serious concerns about working environments both internally and in public settings such as courtrooms.” 

“It is clear from the experiences of CILEX members and those of solicitors and barristers that there is a growing crisis of confidence in the capability of management right across the profession to establish systems and processes that are blind to the background of candidates for entry and promotion and entirely focused on capability and merit. 

“Faced with this evidence, it is now time to stop talking and start encouraging action across employers of all types to re-set targets and aspirations for the legal sector and to engage actively in a sustained programme of ‘levelling up’.”

*LawCare found that 22% of legal professionals had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace in the previous 12 months; 69% of respondents reported mental health problems
**30% of barristers who responded to a Bar Council survey said they had faced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the past two years


For further information, please contact: 

Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208
or email: [email protected] 

 Kerry Jack, Black Letter Communications on 07525 756 599
or email: [email protected]