Barristers’ chambers have struggled to keep pace with the increase in the number of women in the legal profession but Exchange Chambers in Liverpool is looking to address this. Tony McDonough reports
A Liverpool barristers’ chambers is to be the first in Liverpool to sign the Women in Law Pledge as it looks to address the gender gap within the profession.
Exchange Chambers, which also has bases in Manchester and Leeds, says it has agreed to implement an action plan to target gender inequality in recruitment, career progression and retention, opportunities and pay, training, marketing and management.
There has been significant progress in addressing the gender imbalance across the legal sector in recent years. Most up-to-date figures from the Law Society reveal there are 198,821 qualified solicitors in England and Wales. Of those, 101,492, or 51%, are women.
In Liverpool, full-service law firms such as Morecrofts and MSB Solicitors have led the way in addressing gender imbalance among their staff, and particularly in their management teams. Both have women as managing partners – Alison Lobb at Morecrofts and Emma Carey at MSB.
However, in comparison, barristers’ chambers have struggled to keep up with this shift in culture. According to the Bar Standards Board, as of December 2020 there were 17,432 practitioners at the Bar in the England and Wales. Just over 6,600 – or 38% – of those were women. This is in the context of 50.2% of the UK working age population being female.
Figures are even worse for those who rise to be appointed as Queens Counsel (QC). Of 1,870 QCs, just 16.8% are women. One bright spot is that the numbers of pupils starting out in the profession is currently split 50:50 between men and women. LBN has asked Exchange Chambers for its current gender split.
In terms of those people from ethnic minority backgrounds, they make up 13.7% of solicitors and 14.1% of barristers. This compares to 13.3% of the working age population in England and Wales being drawn from those of minority ethnic backgrounds.
The Women in Law Pledge, created by the Bar Council of England and Wales, The Law Society, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, is a commitment to “work together to harness the power of gender equality to transform the business of law”.
Carly Sandbach, a barrister at Exchange Chambers in Liverpool, said: “As proud signatories to the Women in Law Pledge, we have set a range of high-level targets around gender and diversity to make a real difference within chambers.
“We are absolutely committed to supporting the progression of women into senior roles in the profession by focusing on retention and practice development opportunities. We will also be tracking progress towards achieving our goals.”
Jonathan I’Anson, chief executive at Exchange Chambers, echoed Ms Sandbach’s sentiments, adding: “As a board, we are committed to creating a more equal legal profession for all. Signing the pledge is a vital stepping stone in achieving positive change.”