City law ‘drinking culture’ poses major challenge for aspiring Muslim lawyers

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By Legal Cheek on

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New report spotlights challenges facing Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants


A new report has highlighted the challenges faced by Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage applicants seeking training contracts in City law, where the “prevalent drinking culture” significantly challenges those who abstain from alcohol on religious grounds.

The report, Included? The Experience of British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in City Law, found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates made up over 6% of vacation scheme applications but only 3.9% of offer holders. Researchers suggest that while these candidates are well-represented in the application pool, they are underrepresented among offer holders.

The success rate for Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates applying to vacation schemes was only 1.8%, compared to 2.8% for all candidates, 2.8% for white candidates, and 2.5% for Black candidates. The report notes that while the success rate gap for Black candidates applying to vacation schemes has started to close, it remains significant for Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates.

The report, produced by diversity recruitment specialist Rare, noted a similar trend for training contract applications. Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates constituted 7% of the application pool but only 3.5% of those receiving offers. Their success rate was just 1.2%, compared to 2.3% for all candidates, 2.8% for white candidates, and 2.1% for Black candidates.

It also highlights several challenges faced by Bangladeshi and Pakistani aspiring lawyers, including limited access to professional networks and “social capital”. This lack of connections within law firms makes it difficult for them to gain insights into the application process.

Researchers noted that the “prevalent drinking culture” in law firms, with social events often centred around pubs and bars, creates an uncomfortable environment that forces candidates to navigate situations conflicting with their religious beliefs.

Some City law firms now run ‘dry’ social events to address this issue, and many vacation scheme programs are built around activities that do not involve alcohol, aiming to make them more inclusive.

Despite the availability of prayer rooms in many firms, researchers found candidates often feel anxious about leaving their desks to pray, fearing it might negatively impact their evaluations or how their commitment is perceived.

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The report goes no to make several recommendations for law firms, including upping the number of social events that do not centre on alcohol and providing structured mentorship programmes to connect candidates with senior lawyers from similar backgrounds.

Naomi Kellman, head of research at Rare and author of the report, said:

“This report highlights the critical need for law firms to address the systemic barriers that hinder the progress of Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants. Our research reveals significant issues in current practices, particularly around cultural and religious inclusivity, that create an uneven playing field for these candidates. By confronting and dismantling these obstacles, law firms can transform their workplaces into truly inclusive environments that embrace diversity, and better reflect both the society they operate in and the clients they serve.”

She continued: “The findings point to necessary changes in workplace culture and support systems, from re-evaluating social event norms to ensuring proper facilities for religious practices. Law firms must commit to fostering an environment where underrepresented groups feel valued and supported, and it is crucial for employers to take responsibility for opening the conversation on religious practice at work. This commitment is essential not only for the success of individual employees but also for cultivating a more equitable and dynamic legal industry.”

36 Comments

Facts, Not Feelings

Yet ANOTHER report showing empirical evidence that non-White candidates statistically aren’t picked for the legal job compared to White candidates.

I am entitled to my beliefs – there definitely are elements of racism within the Bar and amongst solicitors.

Anon93

City law firms must read this and take this into context instead of narrowing down the firms ” culture ” of drinking. There are muslim trainees who work at your firm please have some respect towards their beliefs. This article came at the right time to show city law firms to make a difference to widen diversity and inclusion. Perhaps having non white candidates could increase city law firm’s chances in succeeding. Though its worth giving it an attempt instead of decreasing the opportunities for non white candidates. I hope this comment helps city law firms to better understand that as a non white candidate I do want to apply to your firms but due to thr lack of diversity and culture clashes there’s a high chance I wouldn’t be accepted because of my background and religion. Please change your perspectives and bring out opportunities for people with a bame background it would not just benefit us but your firm as a whole.

Alan

What absolute hogwash. Please walk into any law firm in the City with your eyes open, and you will see just about every race represented.

Please present facts rather than spewing falsehoods.

Human rights . EDI

And amongst Pakistanis and Bangladeshis , no?

Anon

Disappointing that articles on the report (Legal Cheek, Telegraph) are focusing on a small aspect of the analysis that is most likely to rile people up. There is a deep analysis of various factors that contribute to Bangladeshi and Pakistani underrepresentation, of which religion is only a small bit.

Anonymous

As somebody from the Asian community I find these type of articles ridiculous. Yes, people drink. Yes, people also do not drink. You cannot expect to seismically shift a culture, which is ultimately a non-issue, just because of a vast minority. I go to firm events and (at times) do not drink for a variety of reasons e.g., health, work commitments, don’t feel like it.

On feeling anxious about leaving your desk to pray: people often feel anxious about stepping away from their desk in City law firms full stop. Whether that’s to go to the gym, take a personal call or even get some fresh air. We really must foster a culture of people caring less, both about what others do but also their anxieties.

The idea of people simply feeling ‘uncomfortable’ is not enough to propagate this shift towards the lowest common demotivator.

(175)(18)

Anonymous

👏

Creamy meat pie

You can’t blame partners hiring like-minded candidates because clients also prefer working with like-minded lawyers. I have seen certain firms that hire almost exclusively South Asians with an “token” Anglo paralegal / trainee. All these don’t necessarily equate to a race discrimination.

If your firm doesn’t like you observe your five prayers during the day then move to another firm because the disagreement / different cultural understanding ain’t reconcilable.

realist

The entire country has a drinking culture. It’s absurd to point to the legal profession as a particular outlier in this respect.

Ostrich hunter

Can’t call yourself a realist if you haven’t looked at the data – lawyers are disproportionately heavier drinkers than other professions.

The cheek is legal

“Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates constituted 7% of the application pool but only 3.5% of those receiving offers. Their success rate was just 1.2%, compared to 2.3% for all candidates, 2.8% for white candidates, and 2.1% for Black candidates.”

In real terms, Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates therefore had a 50% success rate in their TC applications. It’d be interesting to see how that compares against white and black candidates.

Someone with a maths GCSE

That’s not how this works, the number of applications will be obviously significantly higher than the number of offers, so you can’t compare the two %s without knowing the underlying numbers. Given they are a higher proportion of the first number, and a lower one of the second, we can deduce that it is a lower proportion than other groups.

Andrew

We can do some simple calculations to check the proposition of a 50% success rate. (Hint: it is wrong.)

To keep the maths simple, lets say 7 out of 200 offers are made to Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants. So that is 3.5% of offers. (This is only approximate, and we could scale this up or down for the actual numbers.)

But the success rate for Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants is only 1.2%, so that means there are about 580 Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants to get 7 offers. If they are 7% of the applicants, the total number of all applicants should be about 8300.

So 580/8300 applicants is about 7%, but 7/200 offers is about 3.5%. And 7/580 is a success rate of about 1.2%.

But for others, the success rate is 193/7720 which is about 2.5%, and the success rate for the whole population is 200/8300 which is about 2.4%.

To put it another way, the number of offers to Bangladeshi and Pakistani applicants is only about 50% of the number it would be if they had the same chance as other applicants.

There are several reasons why that may be the case, and the basic numbers don’t tell the whole story. For example, some applicants might not meet minimum academic criteria (seemingly objective requirements which can be another form of discrimination against people from less advantaged backgrounds, but that is another story – and most firms don’t care so much about your background, as whether you can actually do the job).

dufdif

Mid level Pakistani at a City firm here with a traditional Muslim (religious) upbringing. Articles like this are, frankly, ridiculous. As you can imagine I am wheeled out to every other grad rec / networking event and there is ALWAYS alcohol. Everyone is a grown up and can simply choose not to drink. Christmas dinner and people are staying late to finish the bottles of wine? Great, I’ll stay, have a laugh with everyone and have a coffee whilst they’re drinking. Someone’s leaving drinks? I don’t go to bars but I will pop by quickly say goodbyes and leave. Networking event where drinks are served with canapes? Sure, I’ll come, just pass me a coke and ice please. Articles like this are fuel for a lot of Pakistani / Bengali candidates who just aren’t good enough for the City – I see it all the time, they grow up with the dream of becoming a lawyer (partly because parents gave them three options – doctor, lawyer or engineer), can’t get into a City firm because of the competition / university they’ve gone to and end up becoming a paralegal at a high street firm. They end up bitter for the rest of their lives because they feel hard done by and they blame silly things like drinking culture. Saying that is what creates an “uneven” playing field is woke nonsense but they’ll all tow the line because it suits them when their parents ask them why they’ve been working in a ‘law firm’ for 5 years but aren’t qualified.

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Anonymous

“…they grow up with the dream of becoming a lawyer ”

In order to interpret the data presented in the article we need to know what percentage of the graduating cohorts of top university law students are Bangladeshi and Pakistani (even this would be an incomplete picture) in order to understand whether these groups are simply more likely to apply for Training Contracts in the first place, in which case you would expect the success ratio to be lower. As you say, there may well be cultural factors in play.

Anonyme

Very well said

Muhammad

I wouldn’t usually respond but I think it’s important to say something.

I too am very heavily involved in our firms Graduate Recruitment activities (I wouldn’t say I’m wheeled out, it’s a very active and conscious choice to be involved) and I couldn’t disagree with this comment more. I too am a Muslim with a traditional (religious) upbringing having memorised the Quran and completed a six year degree on Islamic Law, Theology and Jurisprudence too.

The premise is that the whole point of “inclusion” is about making spaces inclusive for all kinds of people. If you’ve chosen to partake in the events and turn up because you feel comfortable, that’s your choice and that’s completely fine. However, it doesn’t given one a right to superimpose yourself as the token “if I can do it, surely you can all do it too” stance – it’s such a sad approach to suggest but also a big part of the problem, in that it adopts the “if they can do it, why can’t you” which if they speak to the author of this comment, on inference from this comment, they would actually blame those uncomfortable in those situations as being the problem, rather than explaining why they may be uncomfortable and being a source of goodness and education, or change in the sector. I always say, me turning up to even outside a bar is so different to a Muslim girl in hijab or a Muslim guy without a beard; I could possibly hide and not be seen, but the way a Muslim girl in hijab would be judged for it, the whole post is just SO ignorant. Choosing not to drink isn’t the issue at hand, it’s about being in environments surrounded by alcohol which frankly makes people feel uncomfortable and not knowing how to navigate it is a genuine source of concern. Beyond the recruitment phase, it’s the longevity concept too – a lot of informal networking is done in these environments because naturally it’s easier to go to the pub than it is to arrange a fully fledged social, and that’s fine, but it does mean those uncomfortable going to the pub, for whatever reason, miss out on that opportunity to make a connection outside the workplace. It’s such a deep issue, not drinking isn’t the core of it.

Then the second half of the comment is simply not worth addressing but it was just rude, pointless and unnecessary – the Rare research spoke about the importance of role models and I hope there are better role models out there, to support the “Pakistani / Bengali candidates who just aren’t good enough for the City” because you can be good enough, you are good enough.

Anon

Agree. As a muslim girl who wears hijab, I’m conscious that people would find it weird if I was at a bar or pub because “I don’t belong there” and I don’t want to ruin the vibe for anyone, so I tend to avoid the events.

Dufdif

I respect your view brother. I strongly disagree but we will not see eye to eye on this. I think the likes and dislikes speak for themselves though.

Kirkland NQ

Not all firms are like this. All I’ll say is that you can’t drink and drive a Lambo.

Confused

According to the most recent UK census Bangladeshis make up 1.1% of the population and Pakistanis make up 2.7% of the population, totaling 3.8%. This would mean that they are proportionally represented amongst offer holders at 3.9%- surely this is important information for these types of reports?

Al

This is a real issue at the Bar. The drink culture perhaps isn’t as prevalent as when I was a pupil. I remember one lunch time being taken to the pub, had 3 pints. Then my pupil master said I should cross examine the police officers. I looked at the judge who helpfully said “Any idiot can do this sober. Let’s see if you can drink and drive.”

But when we do residential advocacy training, so much downtime is spent in the bar. We’ve stated putting aside a room for people who are uncomfortable with that. But when I stick my head round the door it will just be the new barristers. The trainers will all be in the bar.

But these events are where people not only have a chance to chat about the actual training and any questions they may have, but also just for general networking. So that still excludes people from these valuable opportunities.

So this is I think an issue that does need addressing. Just not sure what the solution is. Let’s face it, where barristers are concerned it’s not going to be stop drinking.

Anon

There are so many alcoholics at the Bar.

They drink because they are unhappy and don’t want to be at home.

Anonymous

An overlooked aspect of all of this is an unwillingness of many to compromise and adapt to fit their environment. I’m Muslim and I don’t drink alcohol – what that simply means is I will go to the pub with my colleagues and not drink alcohol and they drink whatever they like. Nobody has an issue with it, nobody cares or says anything and it means I don’t miss out on the social/soft networking side of things and get to know people outside of work. I feel that people respect and appreciate the effort I make to join in.

The number of fellow Muslims I have met who will not do this sort of thing, blindly cry it’s “harem” or refuse to accept that our colleagues will have very different attitudes to some things and that’s ok is astonishing. Of my trainee intake I was the only one of the 4 Muslims who would ever go for trainee drinks and the others would pretty much hang out as a group or keep to themselves. Is it any wonder those individuals ended up feeling disconnected from the firm and their colleagues? Is that any fault of anyone but themselves?

The best advice I ever got was at the age of 15 when an uncle told me the biggest sign you’re living your life poorly is if everyone you hang out with and profess to like looks and sounds like you. People need to be braver about mixing with people from different backgrounds/world views and put yourself out there, you’ll find life much more fulfilling if you do.

You're not getting it.

It’s not just about not drinking alcohol, but being AROUND alcohol and having to deal with tipsy colleagues/people in the vicinity. It’s like if you asked your friends to go to a theme park and you sit out on every ride because you have a health condition. You’re not exactly going to have an enjoyable time…

Like It Is

Lower application success rates are virtually all explained by poorer quality academics on applications and the quality of academics is virtually all explained by socio-economic factors rather than race. Special interest groups using bad data analysis to advance their special causes should be called out for it, not given credence.

Grow up

“Sorry the system didn’t work out for you – tough luck, mate. Better luck in the afterlife. I for one am pretty stoked at how things turned out for me – making adjustments for an underrepresented group sounds long. Special interest groups are out to get us!”

Anon

Well, Muslims are on different spectrums of religion. Most believe being around alcohol or even in a pub environment is prohibited. You may think otherwise. It’s not about ‘mixing’ with people, but more so being in the environment is haram. You may decide to attend these events and ‘blend in’ because it’s not haram according to your own opinion, but I suggest you study your religion a little more or ask someone more learned to understand the nuances.

Anonymous

I would suggest you look up adverse impact reporting – grade controlled reporting comparing like for like academic candidates cut by different demographic characteristics.

Booze free barrister

It’s evident that many commenters may not fully understand the complexities of being a Muslim lawyer, especially at a senior level. As a Muslim woman and associate at a top city firm, I face unique challenges in building meaningful relationships with colleagues. This is primarily because most social events take place in pubs and bars—spaces I do not enter due to my faith.

This difference in social engagement can have significant implications for my career. When work-related social events are held in environments that exclude me, it naturally impacts my ability to form bonds with colleagues and superiors. For instance, a white partner may spend several hours a month connecting with a white associate in these settings. These informal interactions lead to stronger personal bonds. As a result, when interesting projects arise, the partner is more likely to think of the associate they’ve spent time with, not necessarily because they are more qualified, but because they are top of mind.

Moreover, this dynamic isn’t limited to interactions within the firm. Client relationships are also affected. If I meet a client once at a formal dinner, but my white colleague has had multiple informal outings at the pub with the same client, the client is more likely to contact my colleague for future work. This repeated interaction builds a rapport that I, due to my religious commitments, find difficult to replicate.

These bonding moments are crucial. They influence promotions, sponsorships, and work allocation. The ability to network and build relationships outside of formal work hours seeps into every aspect of professional life. Unfortunately, for those of us who cannot participate in certain social activities, it becomes an additional hurdle in an already demanding career. We end up having to work twice as hard to get half as far.

Understanding and acknowledging these challenges is vital. It’s not just about being present at the workplace; it’s about being included in the culture and community of the firm. There needs to be a conscious effort to create inclusive environments where everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs, has an equal opportunity to connect, grow, and succeed.

Liberal voice

The places do not exclude you, you exclude yourself by choice. Every pub I have ever been in would welcome you happily and have a wide range of non alcoholic drinks available.

Please see the other comments on this piece from people of the same faith who disagree with your interpretation of not being able to attend such events as someone who does not drink for religious reasons.

Ultimately why should everyone else have to change their beliefs to accommodate yours? They shouldn’t and the key is for everyone to be flexible and recognise we live in a society with different values and beliefs. If you can’t flex enough to walk into a pub and have an orange juice with your colleagues, I don’t think you’re doing your part in that social contract just as someone who tried to organise a welcome lunch for you during Ramadan when they know you’re a practicing Muslim wouldn’t be doing theirs. Everyone needs to compromise a bit to allow a fully functioning multi cultural society.

Booze free barrister

You’re right, as a Muslim, I choose to exclude myself from these types of social functions due to my beliefs. I believe that I shouldn’t drink, and I also believe I shouldn’t be around those who are drinking or in establishments like pubs and bars. While other Muslims may be more liberal and comfortable with going to a bar or pub and getting a soft drink, I prefer to uphold my beliefs fully and without watering them down.

I’m not saying anyone should change their social plans for me. I’m more than happy to sit these out. However, when it comes to things like work allocation and promotions, I think it’s incumbent on managers to give it some extra thought and to allocate work equitably and give promotions based on merit and not to the person that they were at after work drinks with – simply because they were at the forefront of their mind.

Cessle

You need to find another way to promote yourself.

F Parten

What “merit” though? Having good relationships with people – colleagues and, particularly, clients is a big part of what makes you worth having in a team or sending business to.

Law firms are not in the business of being equitable, neither are clients.

Even if they were, why is it equitable to involve someone less suitable because they don’t have the kind of relationships that command discretionary effort (i.e. you) than someone who does?

If you think that law firms are places for being equitable you are delusional to an extent that makes your judgement questionable if you are over 25 years old.

Legal Mafia

Alcohol? Coke culture is surely more prominent at most of the ‘legal social events.’

Muslim Pakistani city lawyer female

Mid level city corporate lawyer here, Muslim, Pakistani heritage. I think there has been a shift over the years to make things more inclusive and less focused on drink, which is good. I also think that Muslim people can’t be lumped as one statistic, as we have variations on how liberal we are ie, some of us like to have an odd drink, some won’t drink but will have a Coke and network, others feel out of place entirely at a pub so just don’t attend.

As long as the events are balanced, like not every event is centred around hard drinking, i think that’s inclusive enough,

Having said that, as a Muslim who drinks and generally gets on well with colleagues, I don’t think it’s made a blind bit of difference when it comes to promotions. I’m still seen as the “other” and have even been told (in “jest”) that I’m just there to tick the diversity box. So even if the drinking culture wasn’t there, there’d exist discrimination in a different form.

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