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20 Years of Law: How the UK’s Legal Professional Demographics Have Changed Since 2004
21 May 2024

20 Years of Law: How the UK’s Legal Professional Demographics Have Changed Since 2004

Published on 21 May 2024

As with all areas of society, the legal landscape of the UK is a very different one to that seen 20 years ago. As cultures adapt, generations grow up, and political landscapes change, the glue binding much of our society together changes and shifts, as do the demographics of the people administering it. In this article, we’ll be sharing how law, and the people who uphold and analyse it, has changed over the last two decades - and how this continues to impact those considering entering the legal profession. We’ll break this down into three key areas: gender, ethnicity, and accessibility.

It is important to note that where disparities are clear in each of these categories, these are even more widened for those whose identities intersect. A White, able-bodied woman, for example, may face gendered discrimination, but retains White Privilege - in contrast to a ethnic minority female, or an ethnic minority female with a disability. We recognise and acknowledge that power imbalances do not exist in vacuums, and are magnified further when they intersect.


Please note that many articles we have sourced here assume a gender binary or a cisgender slant in their data and use data from self-reported individuals who align with one gender. Most recent statistics suggest that 0.5% of the solicitor population identify differently to the gender they were assigned at birth, although there is limited discussion on how this has changed over the last two decades. We hope to see better academic representation of the gender spectrum in the coming decade. Gender and LGBTQIA+ discussions intersect, but for the purposes of this piece of writing, we will focus most LGBTQIA+ discussions in the section after ‘gender’. We use some binary terms in the following section based on the data and discussion available for summary.

As with many professions, the distribution of gender entries to the role has seen a steady increase in those identifying as female in the last 20 years. This seems to have slowed in recent decades in contrast to more significant increases in the last 50 years, as would be expected following the wake of second-wave feminism, changes to childcare offerings, and access to higher education for women. In 2004, around 55% of entrants to the solicitor roll were female (p. 21), in contrast to 2024, where 62% of solicitors are female. This sees a heavier weight of females entering the profession than males, however, when comparing genders for individuals becoming full equity partners of a firm, the binary flips. Only 32% of full equity partners are female in 2024. This disparity is echoed across many senior positions in high-earning professions and is widely referred to as the gender gap. While there are a myriad of reasons for the gender gap at partner level, one common thread appears in discussion. Frequently, females who have time outside of the workforce to be primary parents to their family, fulfilling unpaid work in the home through childcare and domestic work, on returning to paid work, do not continue an upward career trajectory due to a lack of flexible working and meritocracy in the workplace. There are many arguments for why this happens, though we do feel that Nikki Edwards, Vice President Solicitors Litigation Association and partner at Howard Kennedy, put it well:

“It is well known that unconscious biases can lead decision-makers to favour individuals who share similar characteristics or traits. As the existing partner demographic is predominantly male, they will be more inclined to select men for partnership opportunities, inadvertently hindering women’s access to advancement.”

What does this mean for entrants into the solicitors profession? Realistically it means less about your ‘now’ and more about your future’. If you identify as female, you are in the higher proportion of entrants to work as a solicitor. Disparities come later on, when societal and patriarchal expectations frequently place the weight of raising a family on females (if you are in a heterosexual family unit). Things are changing, particularly with the government’s recent increase in childcare funding. In 2023, funding only began the term after a child hits their third birthday. The government currently promises to offer some coverage of childcare places from 9 months by 2025, allowing for both partners in a relationship to spend time in the workforce. Edwards also argues that flexible working, transparency in hiring and meritocracy rather than the ‘tap on the shoulder’ method are vital to improvements in demographics, too. Many bodies are working to level the playing field, including the Women Lawyers Division and the Association of Women Solicitors, with Magic Circle Firms Freshfields and Clifford Chance ‘working to achieve a global partnership of at least 40% women by 2026 and 2030 respectively’.


While the above section used a lot of binary terminology, we acknowledge that this terminology does not adequately represent all lawyers. While there is limited data on the changes in non-binary or transgender solicitors entering the profession since 2004, lots of organisations exist to support progression for trans and non-binary folk. The SRA have a great resource with training and links to support organisations here

While we briefly touched on the prevalence of non-binary folk in the legal profession, we’ll now look more deeply at LGBTQIA+ representation in the legal workplace. There is limited data on the proportion of LGBTQIA+ lawyers in 2004, so in this area, we will focus solely on current statistics and initiatives. As we noted above, 0.5% of lawyers in 2023 identified as a gender other than that were assigned at birth. Meanwhile, 2.6% of lawyers identify as lesbian or gay, and 1.4% as bisexual. This does not account for lawyers who are not yet publicly ‘out’, or those who declined to comment on their sexual identity. As the SRA puts it, ‘LGBTQ+ lawyers who are not 'out' in the workplace are more likely to leave their job and many are still not comfortable with bringing their full selves to work.’

The Law Society’s Pride in Law factsheet points out several areas of the legal profession that the LGBTQIA+ find challenging. These include ‘a lack of gay role models at work’, and discomfort around coming out to clients. However, 42% of survey respondents reported that there ‘was nothing affecting them at work due to being LGBT’.

Much is to be done to support LGBTQIA+ workers in the legal profession, and the SRA shares multiple efforts currently in progress. An example includes an LGBT mentoring scheme set up in conjunction with the SRA, Stonewall and The Law Society.


The last twenty years have seen a growing increase in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals within law firms. Within the last decade alone, statistics have increased from 14% to 19% in 2015 to 2023, although much needs to be done to increase parity with the UK’s population. Representation is most bolstered towards Asian individuals, and can be seen as follows, each category steadily increasing with ‘less than a percentage point’ since 2015:

  • 12% Asian
  • 3% Black
  • 3% Mixed/Multiple
  • 1% Other

In terms of partnership level, the smaller the firm, the more likely ethnic minority candidates are to achieve partner. The SRA states that one-partner firms have the highest percentage of ethnic minority candidates (39%) with this percentage decreasing as firms grow in size:

  • 2–5 partners (23%).
  • 6–9 partners (16%).
  • 10–50 partners (15%).
  • 50+ partners (15%).

It is clear that this disparity needs to change, and that as a firm’s size and prevalence increases, (particularly in smaller high street firms versus Magic Circle or international firms) diversity decreases. Many initiatives are already in place aiming to reduce this gap. Prospects report several strong initiatives, such as reported by law firm Taylor Wesing:

“we collaborate with Aspiring Solicitors, The Black Aspiring Solicitors Scheme, where we invite a cohort of Black and mixed-race Black heritage mentees to join a series of virtual or in-person workshops. The workshops are designed to upskill mentees, developing their application skills and commercial awareness, as well as provide insights into working in commercial law.”

Prospects also note the ‘DWF runs an Ethnic Minority Access Scheme, developed in partnership with Aspiring Solicitors’ as well as stipulating the importance of the Black Solicitors Network in the UK for supporting aspiring Black solicitors in their career trajectory.

Disability and accessibility 

The SRA report an increase in solicitors identifying as disabled in the last decade, from 3% in 2015 to 6% in 2023. This, however, is still not reflective of the overall working population, which sees a 16% population of disabled workers. 

It is worth noting that the statistics here represent lawyers who have reported their disability. Many solicitors of all levels may still experience disability, but do not report it for fear of discrimination. The SRA identifies this in a report from Cardiff Business School titled Legally Disabled which outlined that “many [individuals in the legal profession who were] entitled to workplace adjustments were often not receiving them, because they feared the consequences of making a request”.

Prospects, again, notes several initiatives in place that are working to make the law profession more accessible to those with a disability - both in terms of improving accessibility, and raising awareness to encourage those unsure if they want to declare for fear of judgement. Prospects shares that The Lawyers With Disabilities Division (LDD) is an example:

“(The LDD) promote equal opportunities within the sector for people with disabilities. Made up of law students, practising solicitors, paralegals, law lecturers and retired solicitors, it provides mentoring and work experience opportunities for its members and can even help candidates secure training contracts.”

Prospects also note that many firms have signed up for the Valuable 500, “an initiative to encourage 500 national and multinational organisations to help change and unlock the social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world”.

If you have a recognised disability and are in the process of applying for legal training, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, you may be eligible for additional funding to support your training, as well as reasonable adjustments to make your program accessible. One example is the Disabled Students Allowance, a non-repayable grant. The SRA website also provides a clear breakdown of how to apply for reasonable adjustments in your SQE exam. We provide a full run-down of our support package for those with disabilities at The College of Legal Practice here.

Final thoughts

There is a lot to take in here. As with all areas of our society, underrepresented groups are experiencing improved conditions and outcomes thanks to social mobility. In fact, a recent article from Legal Cheek notes that in 2023, ‘law firms dominate[d] the The Social Mobility Index’s ranking’ with over ‘40 firms’ making the list. Things look hopeful, but there is a great deal still to be done. 

We recognise the challenges of those in these groups, and particularly those whose identities intersect across multiple areas of marginalization. We hope to contribute to this bigger picture by improving access to legal training, and offering flexible, virtual, and affordable options to mitigate some hurdles that individuals may come across.

If you are part of an underrepresented group or intersect several, we would love to hear from you. Your voice matters, and adding to the chorus might help someone like you to believe they too can enter the legal profession. Contact us at info@collegalpractice.com