Ashurst diversity credentials attacked as firm lets go half its BME trainees

Ashurst is to review its development and promotion systems as it emerges that every trainee who failed to secure an NQ role at the firm came from a BME (black and minority ethnic) background.

The firm had a total 30 trainees due to qualify in September 2013, eight of whom came from a BME background. Half of those were not offered jobs, while the remaining two exited voluntarily to pursue other opportunities.

While Ashurst refused to comment on any specific circumstances surrounding their exits, the firm insisted that the retention process was dependent upon trainee performance and the firm’s capacity to accommodate their departmental preferences on qualification.

The firm added that it was “currently reviewing development and promotion systems to check for potential bias affecting under-represented groups”.

It continued: ”We are confident our selection processes at trainee and NQ level are objective and fair. We had already committed to an independent review in the same way we are currently reviewing development and promotion systems to check for potential bias affecting under-represented groups.”

One source said: “Following the recent case of an ex-Travers Smith trainee who brought a case against her law firm successfully, demonstrating how she was treated in a discriminatory manner, it now appears that a second law firm, Ashurst, is set to also face some tough questions from how it has conducted its equality and diversity policies in retaining its talent.”

Ashurst, however, responded: “Ashurst is clear that the firm’s future success depends on recognising and harnessing the widest possible range of talent. We’re confident that our selection processes at trainee and NQ level are objective and fair.”

In May the Employment Tribunal ruled against Travers Smith in a discrimination claim brought against it by a former trainee who claimed she was not given a permanent job because of her pregnancy (17 May 2013).

It is one of a number of cases that have caused firms to pay greater attention to their gender and diversity demographics with a view to improving the makeup of their intake.

The figures mean that Ashurst records a retention rate of 80 per cent for those trainees entering permanent NQ roles in September 2013.

Seven will qualify into the firm’s corporate, commercial and competition group. Five will begin working in energy, resources, real estate and infrastructure.

Disputes, which includes employment work, will hire five. The firm’s finance group is keeping on seven qualifiers.

The overall retention rate is relatively steady on last year when the firm kept on 24 of 29 (or 83 per cent) of its total trainees. In January, it kept on 19 of 27 qualifiers posting a retention rate of 70.3 per cent – its lowest retention figure since spring 2010 (11 January).