Eighteen major law firms, including Linklaters, Macfarlanes, White & Case and Sullivan & Cromwell, have joined a new initiative to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds join the legal profession.
The initiative is backed by the City of London Solicitors’ Company, the City Solicitors’ Educational Trust (CSET) and The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF), with the support of the City of London Law Society (CLLS) and 18 law firms.
All firms will work with the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), drawing students from universities in London and the South of England. Participating firms will provide lawyers from all levels including associates and partners to mentor the students and offer work experience.
City Solicitors Horizons will also look to the public sector and in-house departments to host students for work experience. Fifty undergraduates will be selected annually to take part in a three-year programme, as part of a pilot scheme. Students will be selected on social mobility criteria, academic performance and commitment to pursuing a legal career.
The assessment of the first cohort of students – those currently in their first term studying law at university – will start in January 2016, with selection in April, in readiness for an initial training course at the end of the summer term.
The move is the latest in a series of initiatives from the City legal profession to bolster its dire record on social inclusion. The most eye-catching move remains the profession-wide PRIME framework to boost work experience to non-privileged school children, which now has 89 participating law firms since launching in 2011. Nevertheless, the range of initiatives have so far yet to make much progress in a profession widely conceded to be getting more elitist.
Roger Finbow, chairman of the CSET’s management committee and a trustee of TLEF, said: ‘The profession has engaged in a number of initiatives over the past few years aimed at enhancing social mobility. However, support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are already reading law at universities is noticeably lacking, and many of these students still find it difficult to obtain training contracts. City Solicitors Horizons aims to give participants the opportunity to compete on a more level footing with other students. We hope that the scheme for students in London and the South of England can be extended as more firms join, and that it will serve as a model nationwide.’
The 18 firms are as follows:
Holman Fenwick Willan
Baker & McKenzie
CMS Cameron McKenna
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
Herbert Smith Freehills
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom
White & Case
For more on the profession’s record on social inclusion, see ‘Small Gestures’ (£)