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Legal services regulators commit to improving inclusivity

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 07 Jun 2022

The legal sector acknowledges that it’s still harder to reach senior level as a lawyer if from a diverse background, and sets out new principles similar to ICAEW’s guidance.

The Legal Services Board (LSB), eight legal services regulators (including ICAEW through its regulation of probate) and two disciplinary tribunals have all reaffirmed their commitment to taking action to ensure more inclusive workplaces for lawyers and that the profession better reflects the society and consumers it serves.

The signatories to the new principles, Tackling counter-inclusive misconduct through disciplinary processes, acknowledge that while there have been some improvements in diversity and inclusion, much more work is needed. It is still harder to progress to senior levels as a lawyer if you are, for example, a woman, from a minority ethnic background, a disabled person, LGBTQ+, or are from a lower socioeconomic background.

ICAEW’s guidance for professionals

This commitment reminds ICAEW of its own obligations as a professional accountancy body and as members of the accountancy profession, and more specifically of the ICAEW guidance on your duty to report misconduct, issued in 2020.

Yelena Travis-Powell BEM, ICAEW Diversity and Inclusion Manager, says: “As a regulator of not only accountancy but also legal services, around 3% of the firms we regulate are under the supervision of the LSB.

“In October 2020 the ICAEW guidance set out a number of areas addressing counter-inclusive conduct, and as signatories to the new principles, Tackling counter-inclusive misconduct through disciplinary processes, ICAEW continues to create, identify and seize all opportunities to support our strategic theme of strengthening the profession by attracting talent and building diversity.”

The proposed changes to the Disciplinary Bye-laws (DBLs), consulted on earlier this year, will extend the existing duty on members to report potential conduct issues (including counter-inclusive conduct) to the Professional Conduct Department (PCD) to other persons and bodies subject to the DBLs, including accredited probate firms.

“ICAEW, as a regulator of legal and accountancy services, welcomes this statement which resonates with that issued by the CCAB,” says Duncan Wiggetts, ICAEW Chief Officer, Professional Standards Department. The CCAB statement setting out guidance on the boundaries of personal and professional life in ethics was issued in July 2021 and draws in particular on ES115.

Wiggetts adds: “We believe it important that all those working in professional services should be treated with respect and that this is reinforced by a robust enforcement process. We will continue to work with other legal services and accountancy regulators to pursue this objective.”

A more inclusive workspace for lawyers

In recognition of the independence of the legal disciplinary panels and tribunals, there are separate but complementary commitments for those bodies. They have undertaken to ensure that training, procedures and policies remain in place to enable them to impose sanctions that make clear the seriousness of sexual misconduct, racial or other discrimination or bullying. This will act as a deterrent and encourage the reporting of misconduct. ICAEW’s own panels and tribunals separately receive diversity training as part of their annual training.

For their part, the regulators have embraced principles that will help create safe workplaces and enable lawyers (and in ICAEW’s case, accountants) to thrive, regardless of their background. This includes a commitment to tackling conduct that goes against an inclusive culture. The regulators will take every opportunity to ensure that the seriousness of these kinds of exclusionary behaviour is reflected in a consistent way in their standards and codes and approaches to disciplinary action.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, says: “This announcement affirms our collective commitment to doing everything we can to create a profession that is the most open and inclusive in the world. Everyone should feel safe at work, and we will work together to tackle and stamp out exclusionary conduct, including inappropriate banter, bullying and sexual misconduct.

“Developing more inclusive workplaces will not only help deliver more professional services, but it will ensure people can contribute different ideas and fresh thinking that will lead to innovation across the sector.”

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