Profession 'failing ethnic minorities'

Law firms are failing to implement race relations policies so that the majority of ethnic minority legal trainees struggle to find work after they finish training.

The claim comes in Let's Get It Right: Race and Justice 2000, a report by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), that shows only 14 per cent of minority trainees found “satisfactory employment” after training, compared to 70 per cent of whites.

The report, the first major release from NACRO's Race Issues Advisory Committee since 1993, highlights recruitment by commercial law firms as an area where race relations policies are not fully implemented and calls on the Law Society and the Bar Council to ensure the race relations policies they adopted in the early 1990s are implemented.

It says: “The policies, good as they are, to a great extent remain on paper when it comes to distribution of work, securing tenancies, securing jobs in commercial law firms and getting the range of experience necessary for consideration of judicial office.”

However, it concedes that “it is difficult to enforce and monitor implementation of policies in professions made up of an independent and autonomous firms”.

A Law Society spokesman says: “It is clear there is a problem, but the picture overall is encouraging: last year 16 per cent of new solicitors were from ethnic minorities.

“We have to keep getting the message across that there are good business reasons for implementing such policies. If there is discrimination against any group it means law firms aren't recruiting from the widest pool of candidates and that can impact on the bottom line.”

The NACRO report coincides with new Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) figures that show the number of complaints of racial discrimination against law firms and legal departments has remained constant at 15 to 20 for the last two years.

However, a spokesman for the CRE warns: “The legal profession should be worried the commission is still receiving a significant number of complaints. Some of these complaints show that basic equal opportunities practices are not being followed. Lawyers should know better.”

A Bar Council spokesman says implementation of its equal opportunities policies is monitored closely, not least by Laura Cox QC, chair of the sex discrimination committee, and Lincoln Crawford QC, chair of the race relations committee, who were co-opted this year by Bar Council chairman Dan Brennan QC and sit on the controlling general management council.

The council spokesman says: “We welcome the challenge of the report and will respond positively.”