The 1% Study

There are 13,403 partners at major law firms in the UK. Only 90 identify as Black.

By Maroulla Paul for CitySolicitor Magazine, Summer 2024 Edition

Curiosity as to who this elite 1% (a rounded up figure) are and what contributed to their success is what prompted Julian Richard, the Managing Director of extense, (the ‘legal sector specialist inclusion consultancy, D&I training provider, and diverse headhunting solution’) to commission a study in association with the Black Solicitors’ Network (BSN), The Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This is called ‘The 1% Study’ whose aim is ‘to better understand the Black lived experience in private practice and determine an evidential basis for targeted solutions to emulate the successes of the 1%’


We spoke with Julian about ‘The 1% Study’ and what he hopes can be achieved as a result of its findings. Julian says his own experience as an executive headhunter proved to him that lawyers who are not a part of the ‘dominant group’* experience a differential treatment in terms of the talent acquisition process, be it not just at the coal face of interview, but also in terms of who search firms push the most.

“This irritated me. I had candidates who were fantastic lawyers; that they should be treated differently by virtue of belonging to a certain social group seemed deeply unfair to me. There was limited data available at the time but on a deep dive I stumbled across some SRA statistics which is where I first discovered that the representation of Black partners in major UK law firms is less than 1%. Had it been two, three or four percent, I may not have been as curious – but this one single percent evoked a curiosity in me and I wanted to know who these people were and what we can learn from them; for candidates to learn how they can give themselves the best possible chance of progressing and for firms to learn what they can do better to get Black talent to senior levels.”

What is the correlation between the numbers of Black people entering the profession and those reaching the pinnacle?

“Recent UCAS figures show that 11% of those entering law courses are Black. Take that further downstream and you see that just over 11% of those who successfully complete the LPC are also Black. What happens to these people – who possibly took on great debt to pay for these courses or who were sponsored by firms and so already had a training contract – as they go up the rungs of the ladder that it should fall to 0.67% by the time they reach the top?”

What is happening?

We all have multiple identities and it may be too simplistic an approach to only consider that being Black is uniquely causing the challenges being faced as Black lawyers try to scale the ladder. Is the sense of not fitting in down to skin colour or to a socio economic background? Are we not progressing because we are Black or because we are female? Or, is it the intersectionality between them? The Study looks deeply into the fact that ‘identity differences from the dominant group in a work context creates status distance. Status distance is a measure of how far away one is from the perceived norms and the power structure within an organisation’. The more points of difference, the more frictioned a progression you face. A Black lawyer with a public school / Oxbridge education is likely to face fewer challenges than one who went to a comprehensive state school and a polytechnic. ‘The 1% Study’ states that ‘to treat all employees fairly you may have to treat some employees differently, according to their needs and present day inequities’. Unless we take this on board, Black lawyers – especially those with other characteristics further distancing them from the dominant group – will continue to leave the profession.

Another challenge facing Black lawyers is the areas they practise in. It is easier for them to get jobs in Employment Law, say, than it is in Corporate or Private Equity. Some practice areas – notably the ones closest to the big money – seem closed to anyone who does not fit in the dominant group and who do not have middle class attributes. The latter can be learned traits but skin colour cannot be muted.

‘The 1% Study’ identifies a number of friction points to progression but, intentionally, it is less an academic reporting of the challenges faced and more of a solution-focussed playbook of how the status quo can be improved. It depicts – through five specific actions law firms can take – what can be done rather than simply list what has gone wrong to date.

One action that is advocated is a formal sponsorship programme. Julian says almost all the Black partners he spoke to for the purpose of ‘The 1% Study’ named a key individual who had a direct impact on their progression. But, random acts of goodwill will not benefit the masses, hence the requirement to formalise. It has been proven with gender that specific formal sponsorship programmes do work and are successful – several firms can show the output of such schemes in accelerating women to senior roles. This now needs to be extended to Black lawyers. It is so important for them to be able to build an authentic connection and relationship with someone who may not be like them, or can often be more difficult to relate to.

How much has ‘The 1% Study’ filtered through to the profession? Latest statistics on readership show that the online report has accumulated over 120,000 views so far and over 350 hours of reading time. Printed copies have been sent to the senior leaders of all the majority of law firms in the UK – at extense’s own cost, not least because Julian feels it is his duty to spread the word, so to speak. extense has also offered to go into firms to present the findings as a keynote, something only around ten major firms have taken up so far.

“One thing that became clear through my conversations was that it can be occupationally hazardous to speak your unfiltered truth in terms of one’s experience of inclusion within your firm and therefore that duty fell on my shoulders – to amplify their stories and their learnings and speak truth to power.”

Some firms have not even responded having received ‘The 1% Study’ but others have embraced it, taking on board the suggested actions and benefiting as a result. But Julian feels that so far only the surface has been scratched.

The reaction to ‘The 1% Study’ can come down to a point of sensitivity. The firms that have not responded are the ones that have no Black partners – in essence, the ones who would benefit most from its findings. Firms who already are doing great work in diversity and inclusion are the ones who are jumping all over it keen to do more. Those firms with Black partners who had contributed to ‘The 1% Study’ feel a sense of pride and this again drives them to want to embrace the action points.

‘The 1% Study’ was self-commissioned and self-funded to the tune of around £60,000. It was very much a labour of love for Julian for whom, being dyslexic, writing 32,000 words of prose that would be closely scrutinised by law firm partners was a daunting prospect. The result is a highly valuable tool, both for Black lawyers and for law firms, and one that we simply cannot afford to just dismiss as an academic exercise but as a bible on what can actually be done in practical, tangible terms to improve the status quo. Leave it gaining dust on the book shelf at your peril.

* ‘Dominant group’ is defined by ‘The 1% Study’ as ‘the population within an organisation where the highest concentration of political power and social capital is present. In the context of our study, specific to major law firms in the UK, the ‘Dominant group’ comprises White, European, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, senior fee earners and organisational leaders’.