The link between ethnicity and success on the Bar professional training course and in attaining pupillage is more nuanced than the big gap between white and non-white candidates presented by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the Bar Council has claimed.
New research it has just published said that – other things being equal – some ethnic groups performed as well as their white counterparts, while others did not.
Those performing well were those of Irish, Black Caribbean, Asian Indian and mixed White & Black African, White & Asian, and White & Black Caribbean ethnicity.
Black African, Asian Bangladeshi and Chinese applicants were not performing as well and “for some the attainment gap is large”.
The report said: “There also seem to be some significant differences between men and women within the different ethnic groups. This assessment has to be considered with some care as it is qualified by the extent of the data available.”
However, there were no significant differences in the prospects of success of women and men overall.
The Bar Council commissioned Professor Martin Chalkley, an economist at the University of York, after BSB research last December reported that white candidates were twice as likely to secure pupillage as Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates.
Professor Chalkley analysed historic data from the Pupillage Gateway that, while not comprehensive, covered 90,000 applications made by 6,000 applicants.
The Bar Council said this was enough “to be able to say that the true picture about differential success in pupillage is more nuanced than that offered by the BSB report”.
Professor Chalkley said the “simplest regression model” confirmed that BAME applicants have a lower success rate (10%) than their white British counterparts (16%), even after controlling for their different educational attainment.
This also said there was no statistically significant gender attainment gap.
“However, allowing for differences between genders is important because according to the more general regression specification, the ethnicity attainment gap for women is much smaller than that for men.”
For men, the ethnicity attainment gap was 8%, compared to 4% for women, a figure the academic said was “not statistically significant”.
There were some ethnic groups where men succeed much more than women (Asian Pakistani, Black African and Irish), and vice versa (Asian Indian and Black Caribbean).
But Professor Chalkley emphasised: “The headline figures need to be treated with caution since many of the effects lack statistical significance but they are very strongly suggestive of a large variation in the ethnicity attainment gap both across ethnic groups and within ethnic groups according to gender.”
The findings suggested that a simple ‘one size fits all’ approach to differential ethnic attainment was inappropriate, he added.
“They also suggest that gender and ethnicity need to be considered together. The largest attainment problems in respect of obtaining pupillage would appear to be focused on specific genders within specific ethnic groups.
“There is a need to conduct further research to understand these substantial differences.”
In a joint statement, Bar Council chairman Andrew Walker QC and Robin Allen QC, chair of its equality and diversity and social mobility committee, said: “Before we can draw firm conclusions from this assessment, the Bar Council wishes to do much more work, for example, unpicking whether candidate behaviour (e.g. links between ethnicity, practice area, popularity of certain chambers and number of applications made) and/or chambers current practices influence success…
“We will also work with others, including key intermediaries such as the Inns and BPTC providers to ensure that candidates have access to the information, advice and support that will enable them to maximise their chances of success in any application round.”