A privately educated elite continues to dominate the legal profession, as new Sutton Trust figures show 78% of barristers have Oxbridge qualifications, while the figure is 74% for the judiciary and 55% of solicitors.
Sutton Trust’s ‘Leading People 2016’ report, based on a survey of 1,200 individuals, was released alongside educational background data for various other professions and showed the number of lawyers educated privately is disproportionate to the 7% of Britons which attend privately run schools.
The social mobility think-tank’s report also points out gradual progress had been made, as for example the percentage of Oxbridge educated judges was 88% in 1989, 81% in 2004 and 74% in 2015.
The report also suggested action toward improving social mobility had been made as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) now collects data on lawyers’ educations, which reinforces received knowledge there is a substantial inequality of background at law firms. SRA figures show 68% of UK-educated partner-level lawyers attended state schools.
The City however, is a different story, as 59% of UK-educated London-based partners or equivalent attended state schools. In the Magic Circle 52% of UK-educated partners or equivalent attended state schools, only marginally more than the amount which attended independent schools.
Stephenson Harwood partner Andrew Edge told Legal Business there’s no blatant favouritism towards private schools, but rather a drive to hire those with great A-level results, who as a result are more likely to have gone on to the highly regarded universities.
Edge said: ‘It’s not as though the people responsible for recruitment in law firms would see a CV and think “They went to a comprehensive, we couldn’t possibly employ them.” That doesn’t happen at all. It’s a bigger social issue that private schools and selective state schools – rightly or wrongly – tend to produce better A-Level results.’
Attempts are being made to diversify the legal sector, with initiatives such as PRIME, a profession-wide work experience initiative which started with 22 law firms and the Sutton Trust in 2011.
The Sutton Trust has also partnered up with the Legal Education Foundation to support to date 2000 academically-able year 12 and 13 students from non-privileged backgrounds who are interested in a career in law. A further 1200 students are expected to benefit from the program across the next four years.
For more on social inclusion see ‘Small gestures – can a new wave of social inclusion schemes deliver?’