Nearly 60% of applicants for the legal practice course (LPC) refused to disclose their ethnicity last year – an extraordinary rise from the 2.3% who refused in 2019.
At the same time, there was a 130% increase in applicants identifying themselves as disabled, including a quadrupling of those citing mental health issues.
The figures were contained in the newly published annual report from LawCAB, the central applications gateway for the LPC and graduate diploma in law (GDL) course.
The report said “the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement” might lie behind the significant changes in the reporting of ethnicity data.
It went on: “Historically, only around 3-5% of LawCAB applicants have declined or omitted to state their ethnic identity on their application forms.
“In 2020, this proportion soared to 59%. Whilst there may be different underlying motivations amongst candidates, the significance of this shift is striking.”
The report said that “most of those declining to give their ethnicity will be white, but by no means all”. The proportion of LPC applicants describing themselves as white fell from 54.1% to 20% last year.
However, there were also sharp falls in disclosure rates for non-white applicants. The proportion of declared Black candidates fell from 11.7% to 4.7%, of Asian candidates from 22.9% to 11.7% and mixed race from 5.3% to 2.2%.
The number of enrolled applicants identifying themselves as disabled more than doubled from 196 to 453, with those disclosing a disability related to mental health issues rising from 19 to 77.
The number of enrolled applicants with unseen disabilities jumpedfrom 16 to 52, while those with multiple disabilities from six to 17.
However, dyslexia remained the most frequently stated disability, with numbers rising from 135 to 172.
The report said the proportion of female LPC applicants increased to almost two-thirds (65%), and just under 60% for the GDL.
“Although female applicants are not only more numerous but also more successful than male applicants in gaining entry to the GDL, this difference is eliminated at the LPC level, with both male and female applicants having around a 78% chance of enrolling in an LPC course.”
There was a surge in applications for the GDL course in its final year, with enrolment increasing from just over 3,200 to almost 3,900.
Alison Hook, director of legal consultancy Hook Tangaza and LawCAB company secretary, said the organisation had never seen “anything like” the fall in numbers disclosing ethnicity.
However, Ms Hook said she had noticed a general trend towards privacy in 2020, “much more pronounced” than in previous years, with applicants requesting the deletion of data, such as references.
She said LawCAB had added an explanation to its questions on ethnicity for this year to explain to applicants “why we want this data and what we’ll do with it”, which she hoped would improve the situation.
Ms Hook said she believed the large increase in applicants with mental health issues was “largely a pandemic-related phenomenon” but influenced also by the shift in social attitudes.
She added that she thought the increase in GDL applicants was “90% driven by the pandemic”, with young people faced by a “flat jobs market”. The result was that the average age for applicants to the GDL and LPC, which had been gradually increasing, fell for both courses.