'Law Schools Should Do More to Entice Working Class Students' Counsel General Says Legal Profession Needs Shake-Up

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Byline: Martin Shipton

LAW schools should consider offering places to working class students who get lower grades than applicants from more affluent backgrounds, Wales' new Counsel General said yesterday.

Labour AM John Griffiths, who worked as a solicitor before being elected to the Assembly in 1999, has ordered his officials to produce a report on the class background of lawyers in Wales.

He said: "We need to understand where we are with the legal profession in Wales, what the picture is in terms of composition on a social class basis, an ethnic basis and on a gender basis.

"When we've clearly identified that picture, we need to see what issues arise from that. For example, if, as I expect, there is a very large under-representation of working class people in the legal profession, then we need to decide how we can address that, working with the profession and with the education and training system here in Wales.

"If we do identify a problem, I think there will be a great deal of goodwill in the profession to address them. I think there's a general recognition in Wales that social mobility is a good thing, that equal opportunities are a good thing, and that if there are issues that are frustrating social mobility and equal opportunities, they should be addressed. "If a large section of society are not coming forward into the profession as they should, that's a lot of talent that isn't being properly utilised in what is a very important profession here in Wales.

"And it does really matter. Judges are drawn from the ranks of barristers. Judges are required to be in touch with the lives of ordinary citizens in judging and sentencing those people, when it comes to the criminal law. If those judges are not representative of the population as a whole, arguably they very often don't understand the lives of the people they're sentencing."

Mr Griffiths said he recognised that any proposal to let working class students gain admission to law schools with lower marks would be contentious. …