The doors to city law firms remain closed to graduates with the wrong postcode, from ethnic minorities or with non-Oxbridge degrees, according to an urban regeneration agency, Bethnal Green City Challenge.
The agency is running a graduate programme designed to help graduates from the Spitalfields area of East London find employment.
But although 40 graduates have been successfully placed with leading City companies since the programme started in October, the agency says City law firms are most reluctant to even consider taking on graduates from the East End.
Programme executive Jane Murray said: "The responses from legal firms has been extremely disappointing with the majority not even giving our consultant, Karin Gould-Clayton, the chance to sit down and discuss their requirements. It appears that if you have an unattractive postal code, come from an ethnic minority or have a degree from anywhere other than Oxbridge, then the door remains firmly closed."
Gould-Clayton said: "Some of the larger partnerships say that unless graduates have a minimum 2i degree from Oxford or Cambridge, then they don't meet the selection criteria.
"Around 85 per cent of the graduates I represent are from ethnic minorities. For cultural reasons, many of them chose to attend local universities so they don't stand a chance."
One exception to the rule has been Birnberg & Co, which took on a graduate as a clerk in October and is now considering him for a traineeship.
But Law Society equal opportunities and ethnic minorities officer Jerry Garvey said these criticisms were unfair. "There is an Oxbridge bias," he said. "But a lot of the firms are making an effort to bring in graduates from a wide field.
"If they have a good academic background and commercial awareness, firms are going to be interested."