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Law firms hostile to anti-bias proposals

SOLICITORS have voiced strong opposition to plans for law firms to adopt anti-discrimination policies intended to give the profession a more liberal image, writes Adam Sage.

Local law societies greeted proposals for practices to draw up equal opportunities policies with hostility. And they virulently objected to an idea that they should adopt targets for the recruitment of staff from ethnic minorities.

Even black solicitors who have long complained about racism in the profession are astonished by reaction to the package put forward by the Law Society, their governing body in London. Jacqueline Harris, of the Society of Black Lawyers, said the response had served to reinforce the 'stereotypical image' of solicitors. 'I didn't think it would be welcomed with open arms but I am surprised at the overall negativity.'

The Law Society issued its plans in a consultation document last autumn. This followed widespread criticism that women and people from ethnic minorities faced discrimination throughout the profession. It suggested that practices should be compelled to draw up equal opportunities policies. All but the smallest firms would try to recruit at least 5 per cent of their lawyers and 10 per cent of their trainees from ethnic minorities.

Jonathan Goldsmith, secretary of the Law Society's race relations committee, said the responses divided into two categories. 'Those likely to be victims of discrimination were all in favour: people not likely to be victims tended to oppose it.'

A handful of large city firms said that although they had no objection to an equal opportunities policy, they did not want to be saddled with targets. But a majority of the 32 local law societies that responded were hostile to the principle, describing the policies as misconceived and unnecessary.

Mr Goldsmith said the replies were representative of the 127 local law societies in England and Wales.

The Law Society could still ignore the objections and press ahead with policies that include targets. Sources said they expected the policies to be modified, but not scrapped.