Meet the London Met law student who took the Government Legal Service to court over her training contract rejection, and won

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

She’ll be applying again this summer

London Metropolitan University

Applying for training contracts has been likened to looking for one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.

These are all the more difficult to find now that firms — often with applicant to vacancy ratios in the hundreds to one — are becoming increasingly reliant on multiple choice tests to help them sift.

For some aspiring lawyers, like Legal Cheek author ‘Pissed-off Postgrad’, these tests are an inconvenience. For London Metropolitan University student Terri Brookes, they are an insurmountable barrier to securing a training contract.

Now a masters student, Brookes has Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The cumulative impact of these means Brookes finds tests with a “social imagination element” (‘what would you do if…’) impossible. She explains:

These tests ask people to predict the future. If you ask someone without Asperger’s what they’d do in a given situation, chances are they could give you an idea of what they may or may not do. I can’t do that.

Imagine Brookes’ disappointment, therefore, when she went to apply for a trainee position at the Government Legal Service (GLS) back in July 2015. Tagged to the initial application form is a situational judgement test. If you don’t do the test, your application will not be submitted.

Studying for her Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the time, Brookes contacted the GLS in June to request reasonable adjustments for the psychometric test. These were that she could submit written answers to the questions. When her request was refused, Brookes gave the test a go, scored below the pass mark and didn’t progress to stage two.

“As soon as I failed the test, I spoke to a recruitment contact and made a formal complaint, which got escalated to senior management,” 33-year-old Brookes tells Legal Cheek. “I told them it was disability discrimination and explained I was trying to resolve this reasonably, but they were sure they were in the right. By November, I’d issued a claim to the employment tribunal.”

Pursuing it was a struggle. Single parent Brookes’ final year LPC exams inconveniently came around at the same time as the case. This — coupled with the David v Goliath nature of bringing court action against an organisation with 2,000 staff — meant there was no shortage of people trying to put the Sussex University law graduate off the idea.

“When I told one of my lecturers about the case,” Brookes explains, “she looked at me, put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘you’re very brave.’” Others said there’s no way Brookes was going to get the GLS to change its whole recruitment process for just one person. “People thought I was crazy, honestly.”

You might think the constant discouragement would prompt Brookes to instruct solicitors and barristers to help bolster her case, but it did the opposite. Fearing a lawyer may too try to dissuade her, Brookes — having experienced her conditions first-hand and researched them as part of her studies — felt she was the best person for the job. She says:

All I was thinking about was the difference I was hoping the case would make.

And she was right to think that way. The tribunal hearing came around in May 2016. The experts — Sussex professor Hugo Critchley and clinical psychiatrist Dr Pawan Rajpal — were on her side. And more importantly, so was the tribunal.

Brookes was awarded exactly what she asked for. Money-wise, this was the minimum amount of compensation stipulated by the guidelines, £600, plus expenses (“this was a case fought on principle, not for money”). The court also told GLS to send Brookes a written apology and to review its application process. Was she elated? Not really:

The government doesn’t want to lose anything. To come up against a student with no training contract and with multiple disabilities, to lose a case against someone like that, they’re not going to like it. I’d been warned the GLS would appeal the case and had expected it to do so.

It did. A year of waiting ensued before the case was heard at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The judges deliberated for four hours (“I was praying, literally praying during that time”), before returning to give their verdict. The GLS lost. Permission to appeal was refused. It was over.

Months of prep work and messy litigation later, you’d be forgiven for thinking Brookes would want to confine her relationship with the GLS to the history books. You’d be wrong. She is planning to reapply for its training contract when applications open this summer. She’s “fully aware” they might not want anything to do with her, and has her plans to study for a PhD at London Metropolitan to fall back on. But:

I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was nine-years-old. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine, and believe me it’s been a lifelong battle to get where I am now… I still believe I could make a difference in education and disability, and I hope the GLS will give me the opportunity to do that.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub here.