Cyril Dixon reports
LEWISHAM has joined the growing band of local authorities which are taking positive action to train solicitors from ethnic minority groups.
The south-east London council has joined forces with a law centre in the borough to start a two-year training scheme for a black law graduate.
About 400 people have enquired about the contract, created under section 37 of the Race Relations Act 1976, to boost representation of black people in the legal profession.
Lewisham – in which 22 per cent of the population are from ethnic minorities – is the latest council to use the section for legal recruitment.
Others include Nottingham City Council, which has trained three black graduates, one of whom stayed with the council after finishing the training programme.
Judith Barnes, chief solicitor at Lewisham, stressed that the vacancy was a fixed term contract rather than a job.
The successful applicant would work with North Lewisham Law Centre for one year, and with the council's legal section for the other.
"Many of the local authorities have taken some sort of positive action," said Barnes, who heads a department of 35 lawyers and 25 other staff.
Tony Austin, solicitor to Nottingham, said his council's initiative had been successful, running for three years before being stopped because of a shortage of funds.
He added: "Statistically, minority groups are under-represented so we want to get the scheme going again as soon as resources allow."
Peter Herbert, barrister and ex-chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, said many black legal practitioners owed their success to a similar scheme run by the now-defunct Greater London Council.
"It is to be recommended," he said. "If it wasn't for the employment of black solicitors and trainees in local authorities then an even higher proportion of black trainee solicitors would be out of work."