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”.