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Ethnicity attainment gap evidence should be ‘wake-up call’ for the sector

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(4 June 2024)

Students from minority groups have often experienced racism and teachers’ low expectations of their capabilities. They do not see themselves reflected in the staff teaching at law schools and universities. Their learning is affected by microaggressions and bias in the classroom. With their confidence and self-belief knocked, they find it harder than white students to get legal work or paid training – not helped by recruitment processes that focus on exam results without looking at the story behind the grades.

These are some of the key findings of a University of Exeter report commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to understand why students from ethnic minorities are more likely to have poorer outcomes than their white peers in legal professional assessments.

The report is based on a literature review published last year, more than 1,200 survey responses from law degree and LPC students, 59 interviews, analysis of data and engagement with an external reference group.

One educator told researchers that a student stopped going to a seminar because another student made an allegedly racist comment, but the white seminar leader did not intervene. When the student later tried to talk to the seminar leader, they felt unsupported.

A trainee solicitor commented: ‘You can’t expect someone who has never been in the legal industry… to compete with someone who has a father that has worked in the City in law firms all their life [and] knows the entire process from back to front… I think it’s massively unfair.’

The report contains several suggested actions.

Legal education providers should better understand the need and ways to support minority ethnic students. Law firms should use contextual recruitment. The SRA should play a ‘leading role as a change agent in progressing diversity across the profession’ and increase ethnic diversity within its own leadership levels.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘A student’s ethnicity should not impact their opportunity to study law or secure a career in the legal profession, yet the evidence shows that it does. This is a wakeup call for the legal and education sectors to address a serious imbalance in outcomes for minority ethnic students.

‘Taking the knowledge and insight from this research, we will bring together law firms, education providers and representative groups to discuss how we can all take action to address these differential outcomes. Collectively, we need to bring about widespread change.’

Welcoming the report, Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘The Law Society is keen to work together with the SRA and other stakeholders to agree a collective way forward to address differences in outcomes by ethnicity.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)