Profiling the legal profession in Scotland – where are we now?

Caroline Colliston
The inspiring Caroline Colliston looks at the law profession in Scotland, and what improvements are yet to come.
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In May 2018, the Law Society of Scotland commissioned a further full census to capture the profile of the legal profession in the country.  The results are awaited and will be watched with interest.
 
The incoming female President of the Law Society of Scotland, Alison Atack, has declared that promotion of diversity and inclusion is a key focus of her year-long tenure in office. Alison Atack is the third female President of the Law Society of Scotland in the past 4 years.
 
With gender pay gap reporting coming into place since the last census of the Scottish legal profession in 2013, one wonders whether the result of the 2018 census will have changed markedly?
 
To its credit, the Law Society of Scotland took action and used the data from the 2013 census to inform the development of its diversity and inclusion strategy, and key themes from the research were used to form the backbone of its diversity and equality standards.
 
In 2013, there was an identified pay gap of an average of £10,000 per annum in certain ranks of the legal profession – a point many senior males had responded to the census to confirm they did not believe existed!
 
The research results also presented a distinct lack of female representation at partner level in firms in general in Scotland, and a clear gender division in legal areas where females had successfully achieved partner level. Areas where success was apparently greater included family law, child law and employment law.
 
In the intervening period, the face of the judiciary in Scotland has changed, and it is heartening to see that we now have 10 Lady Senators of the College of Justice out of the 35 Senators currently in post (albeit that is still less than 30%!). 
 
The profile of the office bearers of the Faculty of Advocates has also changed.  There is now a female Vice Dean of the Faculty and the current Clerk of the Faculty is also a woman.  This equates to a third of the office bearers.
 
Progress and change have occurred, but is the pace of change too slow?
 
It is my view is that the success, survival and progression of the legal profession in Scotland requires that continued and significant progress in all areas of diversity and inclusion continue to be made. Around 70% of LLB graduates in Scotland are female, yet many firms still aspire to a 50:50 gender split in recruitment despite the 'drop-out' of female lawyers mid-career apparently continuing at the same rapid pace as before.
 
Unconscious bias around how people work and run their lives remains rife and, until is accepted that flexible working and part-time working do not equate to a part-time commitment to legal businesses, this drain of talent will no doubt continue.
 
I look forward to reading the results of the new census, and to hearing about the strategies and targets for change instituted by legal businesses and firms to deal with this significant issue we face in attracting and retaining female legal talent in Scotland.  I also look forward to continuing to contribute to this vital discussion.