Black law students suffering jobs bias: White applicants six times more likely to be articled, study finds

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The Independent Online
BLACK students are actively discriminated against by firms of solicitors when applying for traineeships, a study revealed yesterday. It found that white students were six times more likely to be offered a place.

Students from poor families also suffered discrimination and face considerable difficulties in becoming lawyers.

The research, which questioned 4,000 law students over two years, found that British- based white students had a 47 per cent chance of getting a trainee position - known as articles - with a law firm, compared with 7 per cent for British-based blacks. Law students must complete a two- year training period before qualifying as a solicitor. There was also a marked bias in favour of students who attended 'old universities', particularly Oxford and Cambridge.

The report, commissioned by the Law Society, which represents 76,000 solicitors in England and Wales, concluded: 'The results indicate that ethnic minority students are suffering direct discrimination when attempting to get articles.' It emphasised that other factors, such as the type of institution the student attended, did not account for the marked racial differences.

This is the latest piece of research to highlight discrimination in the legal profession. Last week, an inquiry - set up after it was discovered that ethnic minority students were three times as likely as whites to fail their Bar exams - found that barristers' chambers discriminated against blacks in offering pupillages.

The study, carried out by the independent Policy Studies Institute, found that white students had a 44 per cent chance of winning a place on the Law Society's one-year legal practice course, which precedes articles, compared with 12 per cent for ethnic minorities. This difference, the researchers say, was due to more black students studying in former polytechnics, which employers and course administrators discriminate against in favour of old universities.

It also concluded: 'Entry into the legal profession is strongly biased against those from less affluent backgrounds.' This was largely because most of the poor students went to the new universities, which have the greatest difficulty in securing funding for places on law courses.

Students from private schools were 'markedly over- represented' among law undergraduates and on the legal practice course. Students from former polytechnics were twice as likely to get a place on the society's one-year course.

The authors said they agreed that it was often the most wealthy, rather than the most able students who entered the legal profession.

Rodger Pannone, the president of the Law Society, said: 'I find the figures on training contracts shocking and I am sure they will shock the profession. The council has already shown its determination to tackle the problem through clear professional rules and targets for the employment of ethnic minorities.'

Dr David Halpern, of the Policy Studies Institute, said: 'It is very worrying to discover that the process of entry into the legal professions is stacked against those from less affluent backgrounds or that firms select their trainees on the basis of ethnic origin.'

Makbool Javaid, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said: 'This should be a profession which rewards skill and ability rather than social status. The domination by white middle class people must end and be replaced by a fair reflection of society.'