Law firms 'are denying jobs to black graduates'

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The Independent Online

Black and Asian law students have a 30 per cent lower chance of becoming solicitors than their white counterparts, according to new figures.

Black and Asian law students have a 30 per cent lower chance of becoming solicitors than their white counterparts, according to new figures.

These students also spend far longer unemployed or working as clerks in law firms searching for articles, or training contracts as they are now known.

Research by the College of Law, which educates the largest number of law students in Britain, revealed that ethnic minority students with top marks are unable to find law firms to employ them.

One 24-year-old Nigerian student, who left the College of Law with a commendation, wrote to more than 100 law firms but has still not been offered a single interview. A 21-year-old Asian student who did get an interview was asked about her views on racism and then rejected by the firm, which had no partners from ethnic minorities.

Others have had to take menial jobs in law firms in the hope of impressing the partners enough to secure a place. Many have given up on a career in the law altogether.

Only 45 per cent of students from ethnic minorities who left the College of Law last year had a training contract while the figure for white students was 75 per cent, the figures showed.

The College of Law is now working with the Society of Black Lawyers and the AfroCaribbean Lawyers Association to help ethnic minority students find training.

A new option, to be introduced next year, will teach students how to cope with the bleak realities of the legal job market. It will include practical help on surviving on a low income and how to "network". But in acknowledging that many black and Asian students start at the bottom it will also train them in legal clerking skills.

Richard de Friend, director of the College of Law in London, said he was negotiating with the Law Society to make the "life skills" option a permanent part of the Legal Practice Course, which all solicitors must pass.

"It will help to redress this marginalisation by helping students fend for themselves," he said. "Ethnic minority students are highly motivated and very committed; the more we can unlock their talents the greater the benefit to the legal profession."

He said that 30 per cent of students at the College of Law in London came from ethnic minorities. But because they were "disproportionately deprived" in terms of education and background they had less chance of "attaining a training place."

Another finding showed that half of white students had secured their training contract before starting their solicitors' exams, compared with 20 per cent of ethnic minority students.

Mr de Friend said too many ethnic minority students had to fund their own courses, forcing them to take jobs to repay loans after college. Most sponsored law school places, offered by the big City law firms, went to white students with good degrees. After two years' training these students can earn up to £42,000 in their first year. In US firms based in London they can expect far more.

Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said: "When it comes to who is most likely to obtain a training contract nothing has changed. To win a place students must be Anglicised - Sikhs must not wear turbans and names must be Anglicised - so that their racial identity becomes muted."

The Law Society said the "trend" was slowly changing. In 1999 19.4 per cent of studentswere from an ethnic minority, compared with 13 per cent in 1993. But they still only made up 5.5 per cent of the profession compared with 2.3 in 1993.