Leigh Day has advertised apprenticeships specifically for black students in a bid to increase the number of black lawyers it employs.

The firm's campaign states that it is looking for six black students who have completed their A-Levels in London "to a good grade" and who wish to become solicitors without going to university.

Frances Swaine, Leigh Day's Managing Partner, said the firm had fewer Afro-Caribbean and African qualified staff "than we ought to have for our geographical area". She said the firm was failing to attract enough trainee applications from black candidates, and so it had decided to take direct action and recruit at a student level.

Across the profession, black lawyers made up 3% of all lawyers in firms according to the SRA's 2017 diversity survey, mirroring the proportion of black people in employment in the UK.


Some critics accused the firm of contravening the Equality Act 2010. Under the legislation employers can take 'Positive Action' if it can be shown to be a proportionate way of addressing low participation or under-representation in the workforce. But, the government advises, "You must make decisions on a case by case basis and not because of a certain policy".

A spokesperson for Leigh Day denied its search for black employees constituted a policy. "An open day aimed at black students to encourage them to apply for apprenticeships is in line with the legislation - this is not a policy and other apprentices working in the firm are from various backgrounds”, he told RollOnFriday.

The scheme was dismissed online as "patronising tokenism" and "racist". One commenter said it was "just virtue signalling by middle class lawyers who would shit their pants if they had to compete in a truly free market, i.e. if their darling offspring had to go to a sink comp serving the local council estate and try to get a partnership at Jones Day from there". 

But another commenter said it was a "brave initiative" and that targeting students who did not intend to go to university made it more likely that working class black people would benefit.


They just need to watch out for Canadian PMs trying to sneak in.

A number of firms have been putting (actual) policies in place to improve diversity. This week Eversheds Sutherland stated its intention to double the size of its BAME UK partnership from 5% of the partnership to 10% by 2025. Lee Ranson, CEO, said, “We want Eversheds Sutherland to be a firm which reflects the world in which we live and work, and where opportunity is available to the many and not the few. Recognising the challenges often faced by the BAME community we are setting targets, as we have in other areas, to bring accountability and transparency to the success of our programme to build a more ethnically diverse workforce”.

Tip Off ROF

Related News

This Week’s News


Anon 20 September 19 09:11

This feels like it's own race issue. It's pretty commonly accepted that solicitors from the 'non-traditional route' are looked down on in the industry, and within their employers own structures. What Leigh Day probably want to avoid is advertising for a team of black lawyers, who will effectively be treated as 'second class' lawyers...

If Leigh Day are committed to recruiting black lawyers, they should sponsor and/or train black students to become lawyers. 

Arachnae 20 September 19 09:16

Because of course there are no disadvantaged candidates from any other group? I think I almost prefer the designation the Tudor grammar schools used to use: ‘education for the [sons - ok it was the 16th C] of the poor’. The apprenticeship itself is a good idea though. Ironically, until relatively recently, that is often how people, including the senior partner of my former firm, started off at 16. 

Anonymous 20 September 19 09:40

To be fair, there is a distinct lack of afro-carribean solicitors in the profession compared to other races. Well-intentioned, but poorly executed.

Chuck 20 September 19 10:12

Still don’t get why Trudeau was wearing a bra on his head? 

This story - good intention but for all the wrong reasons. Better off supporting underprivileged schools to encourage a wide range of kids into law. Some places guarantee certain minorities an interview which I think is better as often people can perform better in person than on paper.

Escaping Puppy 20 September 19 11:01

Positive action is generally doing stuff like holding gender or race specific recruitment events to encourage applications from under-represented groups.  There is nothing wrong with this and it is totally permissible at law.  You can also select someone from the under-represented group in the event of a genuine 50/50 tie during a recruitment process.

Running an advert which basically says 'no whites' (which seems to be what they have done) is a step too far and thus discrimination.  

I suspect the SRA are already on to this one and lining up some sort of action for breach of equality duty.  

Anonymous 20 September 19 11:04

Might be a case of once bitten twice shy for the SRA https://www.rollonfriday.com/news-content/sra-loses-leigh-day-exonerated-fake-iraqi-abuse

Or fearful of being accused of having a vendetta

Anonymous 20 September 19 11:29

A "woke" sensitivity to ethnic diversity is not progress

They should have advertised for trainees from Grimsby or Glasgow

Anonymous 20 September 19 12:55

Have a look at the Jones Day junior lawyers - and then look at the proportion who are pretty and blonde... I think there is definitely a bit of trouser-tingle indirect discrimination going on there.

Black woman :) 20 September 19 14:33

It's very interesting that most of the uproar is coming from people from a non-BAME background and are usually the first ones to scream "it's racist". I honestly believe representation is very important across all industries to reflect a multi-cultural city. If they have very few black people working at the organisation as solicitors and would like to encourage young black people to explore a career as a solicitor- I don't see anything wrong with it. I'm just fed up of people from non-BAME backgrounds complaining because they feel "left out" and are worried about being the minority - which is very ironic! 

James 20 September 19 15:52

Who cares if the number of brown faces in law firms isn’t proportionate to the number of brown faces in broader society? Not all communities aspire or gravitate towards professions to the same degree. If the black “community” aren’t producing young men/women who are law firm material that’s their choice. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of law firms, or any company for that matter, to compensate for the underachievement or disinterest of minority “communities”. And it certainly shouldn’t be done (if at all) by having a ‘no whites need apply’ recruitment drive. 

P.S Not that it should matter, but in today’s climate I feel compelled to include the following in order for my point not to be dismissed as merely the disgruntled utterances of a ‘privilege white male’... I’m black. 

Crazy Lawyer 20 September 19 22:28

Worked in law for 8 years and never have come across a black solicitor in any practice that worked at in London or Manchester. Something is quite right....

Alex (Not real name obviously) 21 September 19 17:06

James, I don't care if you are black as you allege, or not, but you sound racist as "f***".  Especially with what you said here:

Not all communities aspire or gravitate towards professions to the same degree. If the black “community” aren’t producing young men/women who are law firm material that’s their choice.

What do you mean by this? This is bullshit and racist thinking. I'm of Afro-Caribbean descent,  went to an inner city school, secured top grades, went to a Russell group university and obtained a TC in the normal competitive way. So, it is not true that the black community or any other under represented community do not aspire to top professional jobs. Working in the legal profession, I've always been disappointed by how undereprented it was. It would be great to have more people who look like me in the professsion and at my firm instead of always being a minority.

The white privilege argument is raised a lot in response to this racist bullshit because it's a valid point. People from priveleged backgrounds, who have had parents work in elite industries already can visualise what it may be like to work in these industries because they've seen their parents or other known family friends work in them. Whereas, people from afro-Caribbean backgrounds for instance may be the first lawyer in their family due to decades of overcoming institutional racism.

Furthermore, let's not pretend that nepotism doesn't work. The amount of students already from privileged background who get opportunities at my firm to do informal work experience just because they're connected to a client, is high. Some of these students aren't even at university yet so this is already going to put them ahead of the competition.

Finally, of course elite industries have a responsibility to give back to society through their CSR initiatives. We all have a moral duty to give back to society, whether you recognise it or not. And if you are in a privileged position then why not give back, unless you are a cold hearted person.

Please keep your racist views to yourself and have several seats.

For the record, this is not a recruitment strategy banning whites only, it bans more ethnicities than that. Leigh Day is trying to appeal to people from afro-Caribbean descent due to the underrepresention at the firm.

Personally, I don't think it's the best strategy as there is an assumption that black people cannot obtain top grades and that's just rubbish. I grew up on an estate, didn't always have the best teachers, and still obtained top grades comparable to students who attended top or private schools because I am smart and hard working. So, perhaps Leigh day needs to visit inner city schools, look for the top students who have good -top  grades, and raise its profile with these students so that they will want to apply to the firm through its normal recruitment process. They can sponsor these students through university and law school and perhaps they'll have more students from an underrepresented background applying to the firm.

Three paragraphs over finally 23 September 19 10:03

@ Alex - u don't half bang on mate, had to wade through another few paragraphs after your "finally".

Why are we turning into America? There is no divide between whites and blacks and frecklies and in-betweenies, save for the ribbing they may get as a kid.

The top shops tend to favour good looking and clever, hard working burds, and not-so-good-looking nerds with a willy, equally clever and hard working.  IME, colour has fcuk all to do with it.

From an outsider's perspective, the UK seems to be regressing.  If you are clever, hard-working and will bend over when big-firma law demands (Leigh Day not inc.), you'll succeed, albeit miserably.

Let's start with evidence 24 September 19 15:36

Why is the stat for the proportion of black people in employment used in this piece that reflected the whole UK rather than the stat for London which we know is higher? 

As for the perspective that racial groups aren't capabable of attaining high grades or driving young people towards the legal profession...this opinion is about as sophisticated as (and has as much supporting evidence) as the psychologists who argued that criminality can be gauged from physical features. No one's intelligence, passion or ability can be determined by how they look. Every race, to the same degree of intelligence and the opposite. What we become is determined by our environment and the opportunities afforded to us.

There is overwhelming evidence that black people are undermarked and unsupported. Evidence that even with the same qualifications (or higher) they are underpaid. Even in the same positions. If you are genuinely interested in a genuine discussion based on fact and evidence, start with the surplus of information available in the public domain. Your opinion is not more valid because you're a black man talking about black people. What makes your opinion more valid is something at least resembling evidence. 

Another James 25 September 19 17:04

Looking forward to that day where people, firms and companies all see past the genitals between peoples legs, the gender someone chooses, how much or how little melanin our ancestors had and just recruit or promote based on the fit and skills that individual can bring.

Mr Evidence 25 September 19 17:53

@ Let's start with evidence 24 September 19 15:36 "Your opinion is not more valid because you're a black man talking about black people. What makes your opinion more valid is something at least resembling evidence." "There is overwhelming evidence that black people are undermarked and unsupported"

I note you produce nothing resembling evidence despite your call for it …

…I always find Thomas Sowell a good place to start when it comes to commenting (with authority) on these issues (and I mean reading every book he has ever written). 

Anonymous 26 September 19 08:50

Maybe Leigh Day ought to discriminate in favour of faster runners to catch up with those ambulances...

Hmmm 27 September 19 16:55

Lots of white folks on here getting angry and talking on behalf of black folks.

The irony of these woke social justice warriors removing the agency of others to suit their virtue signalling agendas. Very progressive, the guardian would be proud.