Discrimination and a lack of diversity are two of the biggest threats to the profession, Sir Andrew Burns warned in a speech urging barristers to engage with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) over future regulation.

In his first keynote address as BSB Chair, the former diplomat said that discrimination, lack of diversity and “outmoded working practices” risked limiting the profession’s ability to meet the needs of the “culturally diverse range of consumers who need and rely on legal services”.

Speaking at Lincoln’s Inn, Sir Andrew said: “The most significant changes to legal regulation have been changing consumer demands and expectations, technological advances, and global competition.

“These factors place both the public interest and the free market above preservation of traditional practices and what some see as vested interests. We’re already seeing the effect of some of these pressures in the market.”

He highlighted the increasing numbers of litigants in person, reductions in public funding, and reform of the court system.

Sir Andrew said the BSB wanted to “nurture a deep dialogue with the profession and consumers” and “take a 360 degree look” at some of the issues in order to target more effective interventions where required.

Supreme Court Justice, Lord Sumption, had previously entered the diversity fray, stating that it would take 50 years before the number of women on the bench equalled the number of men.

He called for equality campaigners to be “patient” and warned that rushing to achieve equal representation could have “appalling consequences” on the quality of justice.

Lord Sumption also suggested that the reason there were so few women at the top of the profession was down to the “lifestyle choice” of women who eschewed the long hours and working conditions.

Another Supreme Court Justice, Lord Mance, joined the debate, calling for diversity to be a factor when senior judges are appointed to help the judiciary become “more representative of society generally”.