Legal Business Blogs

Government body’s report criticises ‘slow’ move from elitism in legal sector

The top jobs in the legal sector are still dominated by private schools, with ‘patchy evidence of Law, Medicine and Accountancy attempting to widen their search for talent’, according to a report published today by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty (SMCP) Commission.

The judiciary ranked as the most elitist profession assessed by the report, with 71% of senior judges in the UK having been educated at independent schools, compared to 7% of the public as a whole. The judiciary came above the senior armed forces officers, where 62% of people were educated at independent schools, and members of the House of Lords, 50% of whom were privately schooled. The report, which analysed the background of 4,000 leaders in politics, law, business and the media, found that one in seven judges went to just five independent schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys.

The commission’s chairman Alan Milburn said: ‘In a democratic society, institutions – from the law to the media – derive their authority in part from how inclusive and grounded they are. Locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain’s leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be. Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences they risk behaving in ways and focussing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society.’

Analysis of one leading City firm found 41% of partners attended private school, with a further 17% having been educated at international schools outside of the UK. That left just 42% of partners who had attended state or grammar schools, compared to the national average of 88%. The pipeline at that firm, which chose to remain anonymous, offered little hope of a more diverse partnership in the future, with 36% of junior associates having attended private schools in the UK. The report states that ‘in law, the move to a broader profile is, at best, slow’.

This comes despite progress on the National Foundation for Educational Research’s PRIME, a placements scheme for students that would not usually have such an opportunity in the legal sector. The programme reported in July that 1,200 placements were provided across the UK, up from 751 in 2012. Firms involved in PRIME offered placements equivalent to 69% of the total number of training contracts.

The Commission set out a five-point plan, covering greater schools outreach, more paid internships, increased use of university-blind applications, further use of apprenticeships and a call for firms to collect and publish data on social background of new recruits, for the legal sector and others to move away from elitism.

Clifford Chance became the first Magic Circle firm to introduce a blind-CV policy in an attempt to dampen Oxbridge bias earlier this year, which, though innovative, only applies to the final interview stage.