Addressing Ethnicity Gaps in Professional Legal Assessments

Monday, June 10, 2024

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is urging the legal, education, and training sectors to work together to tackle significant disparities in professional legal assessment outcomes based on ethnicity. This appeal follows the release of a comprehensive study commissioned by the SRA, which aims to understand why minority ethnic students often achieve poorer outcomes compared to their White peers in legal professional assessments.

Conducted by the University of Exeter, the interdisciplinary study involved experts from law, business, and psychology. The research uncovered that no single factor explains the performance gaps; rather, a combination of multiple factors does. These include socioeconomic background, educational experiences, and access to work placements, all of which significantly influence outcomes.

The research, incorporating lived experiences and stakeholder perspectives, highlighted several systemic issues:

  • Minority group members are more likely to experience discrimination and bias in educational settings, reducing their access to legal work placements.
  • A lack of ethnic diversity among academic staff and curriculum content affects minority students' sense of belonging and can lead to microaggressions and classroom bias.
  • Minority ethnic students often face more difficulties securing funded support for legal professional education due to recruitment processes that do not consider contextual factors like school background and personal circumstances, favouring White students.
  • Those who perform better in professional assessments generally face fewer challenges in their educational journey and have more access to positive workplace opportunities and role models.

The report emphasises the need for broader collaboration and more widespread action beyond the current small-scale initiatives. It suggests specific actions and discussion points for key stakeholders, including the SRA, to foster significant change in the profession.

Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, remarked, "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 wake-up call for the legal and education sectors to address a serious imbalance in outcomes for minority ethnic students."

He added, "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. Collectively, we need to bring about widespread change."

Professor Greta Bosch from the University of Exeter commented, "This research brought together academics from law, business, and psychology to consider the multiple factors influencing outcomes in legal professional assessments. We have identified clear opportunities to address differential outcomes between ethnic groups and recommend actions for stakeholders accordingly."

The SRA has committed to leading efforts to bring stakeholders from across the sector together to address these issues and develop an action plan informed by the research findings