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Equality & Diversity - Is your Firm ready for an SRA Audit?

The SRA's supervision team will contact 100 randomly selected law firms this month, to find out if they are complying with the rules on Equality and Diversity. They will also check on how firms have responded to the LSB diversity data requirement that required firms to provide data about every member of staff.

The SRA intend to arrange visits, where they may be "accompanied by colleagues from diversity and inclusion." The intention is to find out about how a firm are meeting their responsibilities in this area.

Firms should note that the visits are part of a pilot scheme, with the suggestion then that they will be rolled out across more firms in the future.

Equality and Diversity has been elevated to a Principle in the SRA Handbook which came into place on October 6th 2011. Principle 9 states that you;

"Run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity"

Firms selected for audit will have to demonstrate compliance with Principle 9, and its Outcomes as follow;

O(2.1) you do not discriminate unlawfully, or victimise or harass anyone, in the course of your professional dealings;

O(2.2) you provide services to clients in a way that respects diversity;

O(2.3) you make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled clients, employees or managers are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled, and you do not pass on the costs of these adjustments to these disabled clients, employees or managers;

O(2.4) your approach to recruitment and employment encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity;

O(2.5) complaints of discrimination are dealt with promptly, fairly, openly, and effectively.

Firms may be able to demonstrate this through the Indicative Behaviours provided in the SRA Handbook, such as;

IB (2.1) having a written equality and diversity policy which is appropriate to the size and nature of the firm

 IB (2.2) providing employees and managers with training and information about complying with equality and diversity requirements

IB (2.3) monitoring and responding to issues identified by your policy and reviewing and updating your policy.

It will be for firms to work out how they prove this, and those selected for audit will need to consider it carefully, as failure to comply with a Principle or its Outcomes carries significant and severe punitive measures.