Freshfields’ removal of criminal records box from applications is targeted at support staff — but applies to trainee solicitors

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By Alex Aldridge on

A Law Society Gazette piece in today’s Morning round-up about Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s removal of the criminal record box from its application forms has generated lots of interest.

Has a route into the magic circle been opened up for rogue wannabe lawyers, many wondered. So we contacted Freshfields to find out more details…

The firm told us that the initiative — part of a wider campaign by Business in the Community (BITC) to help ex-offenders find employment — is largely aimed at the recruitment of support staff.

It is often overlooked that more than half of big international law firms’ employees are non-lawyers, with these outfits containing legions of clerical, IT and catering staff, among many other non-lawyer workers.

Will the initiative — which is to see Freshfields request information about unspent criminal convictions only once a job offer has been made, rather than at the beginning of the application process — apply to prospective trainees and solicitors at all?

“Yes,” confirmed a Freshfields spokesperson, “but only if they meet a whole host of Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules governing this area.”

The SRA rules on being admitted to the roll of solicitors are here. In summary, if the offence is relatively minor, it is possible to become a solicitor, but if the offence is more serious — or dishonesty-related — then it’s not.

But exceptions can be made. For example, a man jailed for his part in an armed robbery is now a solicitor — and, as the Daily Mail reported last year, these days appears in the very court where he was sent down.

We asked Freshfields if the firm had any ex-offenders among its lawyers, but it hasn’t yet responded to this question.

Update: 16:58 — A Freshfields spokesperson said: “What I can tell you is that all of our solicitors meet the SRA’s fit and proper person test. In respect of the people that have come to the firm through the BITC scheme (with past criminal convictions) to date, none have been employed in legal roles.”