White students more likely to secure law firm sponsorship, research finds

Avatar photo

By Legal Cheek on

7

Major SRA report examines ethnicity attainment gap in law exams


The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published new report that reveals white students are nearly twice as likely to secure funding from a law firm for their professional qualifications compared to their Black and Asian peers.

The research, commissioned by the regulator in December 2021 and undertaken by academics at the University of Exeter, looks at why certain ethnic groups tend to perform better than others in law exams.

The report found that while 45% of white students had their Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees covered by their future training firms, the percentages for Asian and Black students was much lower at 24% and 26% respectively. It further found that 43% of Asian and 45% of Black LPC students had a legal role secured for when they completed their LPC, compared with 66% of white students.

According to the report, this is due to firms often relying solely on A-Level results, without considering the context in which those grades were achieved, which is more likely to lead to white students being recruited.

Researchers also noted that belonging to a minority ethnic group increases the likelihood of experiencing discrimination and bias in educational settings and reduces access to work experience opportunities in law firms.

The SQE Hub: Your ultimate resource for all things SQE

The report says the absence of ethnic diversity among academic staff and in the examples taught in law schools can affect students’ sense of belonging and perception of fitting into the profession. They said this situation can lead to microaggressions and bias from academic staff in the classroom, ultimately impacting the learning experience of minority ethnic students.

As in previous years, the SRA’s latest education and training report showed that students from ethnic groups were less likely to successfully complete the LPC, a trend that has continued with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

Researchers said they were unable to identify a single, simple cause or solution to what what is a “complex issue”.

The report is based on a literature review (which we covered last year) and includes a survey of 1,200 undergraduate and LPC students, alongside interviews with newly qualified solicitors, law lecturers, and senior figures in law firms.

Researchers also discovered that individuals performing well in their professional assessments typically faced fewer challenges during their school, university, and professional education experiences. They tended to have had greater access to positive workplace opportunities and role models from a similar background.

In response to the findings, the SRA has committed to bringing together education providers, law firms, and the wider legal sector to work together to address the issues identified in the report. It will also develop an action plan informed directly by the findings.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “A student’s ethnicity should not impact their opportunity to study law or secure a career in the legal profession, yet the evidence shows that it does. This is a wakeup call for the legal and education sectors to address a serious imbalance in outcomes for minority ethnic students.”

“Taking the knowledge and insight from this research, we will bring together law firms, education providers and representative groups to discuss how we can all take action to address these differential outcomes,” he continued.” Collectively, we need to bring about widespread change.”

7 Comments

Tim

What is being done for disabled applicants?

Anon

Couldn’t agree more with “The report says the absence of ethnic diversity among academic staff and in the examples taught in law schools can affect students’ sense of belonging and perception of fitting into the profession. They said this situation can lead to microaggressions and bias from academic staff in the classroom, ultimately impacting the learning experience of minority ethnic students.” The same is true when working in the profession i.e. law firms.

Legal Recruiter Manchester

I agree. My sister’s best friend is a lawyer. She is black with an accent. Slightly over 30.
She shared quite a few stories from her TC and from client meetings. Nothing direct but a few clients, particularly white men aged around 40-50, seemed shocked or disgusted than she dared to speak during the meeting.

Yeah

There is nothing like second hand limited anecdotes to support a generic extrapolation.

Anonymouse

“Asian” is not an ethnicity. Han Chinese and Pakistanis are both Asian ethnicities but in the UK experience wildly different socioeconomic outcome. Even among south Asians, those of Indian and Pakistani heritage differ sharply in their life experiences. Even among Indians we see a clear difference between those of Ugandan-Asian extraction and those whose ancestors migrated directly from the subcontinent. A similar divergence can be observed between those whose ancestors migrated from Africa itself, especially from Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria, and those of Caribbean extraction.

Put simply, differences between ethnic minorities are more significant and frankly more interesting than those between the white majority and the various ethnic minorities. The failure to properly granularise these findings is at best lazy and at worst disingenuous.

Genuinely interested

I tried to find the full research through the link, but struggled. A comment above also finds this lacking in granularity.

The headline statement says “White students more likely to secure law firm sponsorship”. Is this correct or does the research instead say that of the people who are on a course, X% from Y demographic have also got (or not got) sponsorship?

The suggestion is that proportionately, if a black or other ethic minority student were to apply for sponsorship, they would be less likely than the same white student in obtaining the sponsorship.

Would be interesting to, e.g., look at the statistics of the top 15 law firms in the City and publish the following data:
1. Of all the applications made to your firm, are you proportionately more or less likely to offer a place to a white student than to a minority student? If a bias does emerge from this data, in whose favour does it lean?
2. Is the make up of incoming and current trainees representative of UK demographics? Do you disproportionately have more white students? Is there balance or is there a disproportionate bias towards particular demographics?

I think this would be really helpful in assessing whether there are biases prejudicial to particular groups.

Jane

I just started reading it – see https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/research-publications/potential-causes-differential-outcomes-legal-professional-assessments#exeter I cannot see a way to download it as a pdf which would be a lot better. In a sense it sums it all up – we get a mickey mouse summary only, very hard to get the details and then they treat readers like children who need tiny snippets page by page; and then they point out that exams are too hard for some people if they closed book and that perhaps we should change the rules presumably to give “prizes for all” even if they cannot pass the exams/put in the work…. anyway I will read on with an open mind.

Join the conversation

Related Stories

news SQE Hub

SRA releases first review into SQE ethnicity attainment gap

Career barriers can have a 'knock-on' effect in candidates' performance

Jun 7 2023 9:12am
23
news SQE Hub

SRA eyes £66 million SQE income next year 

More than double previous year

May 30 2024 11:50am
4
news SQE Hub

SQE2 pass rate climbs to 73%

Over 870 aspiring lawyers completed latest sitting

May 29 2024 12:49pm
5