Solicitors aim to eliminate bias over race and sex

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The Independent Online
TOUGH policies to combat discrimination were proposed yesterday by the solicitors' governing body, writes Adam Sage.

The proposals aim to stamp out direct or indirect discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and disabled people. They follow allegations that the profession is biased in favour of white, able- bodied males.

Yesterday, the Law Society suggested that all but the smallest firms should try to recruit at least 5 per cent of their lawyers and 10 per cent of their trainees from ethnic minorities.

If adopted, the measures will place solicitors alongside barristers as the most radical of professions in terms of their equal opportunities policies. Last year, the Bar said that all chambers should aim to recruit 5 per cent of members from ethnic minorities.

The Law Society said it had discussed its proposals with City firms and black lawyers, all of whom had broadly welcomed them. But the policies, issued as a consultative paper, still have to get past smaller, provincial practices, some of which are certain to give them a frosty reception.

Yesterday, Jacqueline Harris, secretary of the Society of Black Lawyers, said: 'There is still a misconception amongst lawyers that clients don't want black solicitors on the other side of the desk. A number of black applicants have been asked at interviews how they think clients will relate to them.'

Failures to recruit and promote ethnic minorities and women have dominated the debate within the Law Society, but officials say the measures must apply to the disabled as well. It is planned to compel all firms to operate anti- discrimination policies. Technically, the policies need not be written, but Law Society officials said it could be difficult for practices to demonstrate they were meeting the new criteria without producing documentary evidence.

Redefinition of justice, page 21