Justice Week: CILEX chair calls for end to legal profession’s “deep-seated cultural biases”

Speaking at a parliamentary reception on 20 June 2022 to launch this year’s Justice Week, Professor Chris Bones, chair of CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) called for an end to the “existing and deep-seated cultural biases in legal services against those from non-traditional or disadvantaged backgrounds”.

CILEX has long argued for a justice system and legal services sector that is more representative of the society its serves, with lawyers and judiciary who bring a diversity of life experiences to their roles. Speaking at the event, attended by government ministers, opposition spokespeople, members of the Justice Committee, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, the Law Society and the Bar Council, Professor Bones said that “the law, like many other parts of the British establishment, is facing increasing scrutiny and as a result of justifiable criticism is having to face the need to change just as much, and perhaps more, than other institutions”.

He highlighted the fact that law is one of the few sectors where leaders are still predominantly from a private school background, with two-thirds of senior judges and over 50% of partners in firms regulated by the SRA, privately educated according to a Sutton Trust report.

He expressed concern about the “poor behaviours and employment practices” experienced by many CILEX members, the majority of whom come from socio-economic backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the profession, but welcomed public commitments made by the government and Judicial Office to address the remaining legislative, regulatory and policy barriers that prevent CILEX members from participating fully in the legal system.

Last year, a survey of over 2000 CILEX members found they faced discrimination and a lack of respect from employers, despite their qualifications and experience. 82% believed that justice was losing out because of discrimination against them.

Speaking on members behalf, Professor Bones said: “We can talk about how we are excluded from having careers by prejudice that forces our members to requalify – even if the qualifications they hold are recognised as sufficient in law. We can talk about how, as a profession with a majority of women and many people from non-white backgrounds, we don’t get the same support for our qualifications and learning as others in professions that come via traditional universities.”

Professor Bones highlighted the important role CILEX members have to play in broadening access to justice and called upon parliamentarians and the other legal professional bodies to work together to act “to address long-standing attitudes, practices, policies and regulations that need reform to diversify the legal system and increase the public’s understanding of the law such that we achieve a shared goal to make justice more accessible for all”.

  non-university route into law and recently launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), a new approach to on-the-job training that marries legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers in the 2020s.

The CPQ is a progressive qualification that creates a workforce of specialist legal professionals, that can ultimately qualify as a CILEX Lawyer. CILEX Lawyers can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.

CILEX members come from more diverse backgrounds than other parts of the legal profession:

  • 76% of its lawyers are women
  • 16% identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME)
  • 84% attended state schools
  • 31% are the first generation in their family to attend university
  • Only 3% of its members have a parent who is a lawyer.

CILEX members are regulated through an independent body, CILEx Regulation. It is the only regulator covering paralegals.

Linda Ford is CEO of CILEX.

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