Supreme Court chief suggests that top chambers waive first class degree requirement for state school applicants

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By Alex Aldridge on

Lord Neuberger wants to see leading sets hire fewer public school types.

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Rare is the junior barrister at a top London chambers without an Oxbridge first — as Fountain Court’s member profiles illustrate.

But is such uniformity of educational excellence necessary?

The president of the UK Supreme Court isn’t so sure, arguing in his 2014 Rainbow Lecture on Diversity that “sometimes we have too rigid and traditional a view of the qualities required for a particular job”.

In the lecture, which was given at the House of Commons yesterday, Neuberger went on to echo frequently-voiced concerns about the dominance of the upper classes at the elite end of the legal profession.

His solution? For top chambers to ditch their informal practice of hiring only graduates with first class degrees — if the applicant went to a state school. Neuberger’s precise words were:

“One thing which such chambers (or law firms) might consider is the possibility of requiring applicants to state whether they had been to a state school (or even whether they had received free lunches) and, if they had, not rejecting them if they have a second class degree.”

The Supreme Court chief added that the idea was suggested to him by a comprehensive school-educated junior solicitor at a magic circle firm who is on secondment at the Supreme Court. However, Neuberger shied away from giving the proposal his full backing, explaining:

“I have neither the experience nor the evidence to justify positively recommending such a suggestion. It is simply an example of a possible way of encouraging and assisting those from a less fortunate background to enter the legal profession.”

At other points in the lecture Neuberger spoke of the legal profession’s problems with gender and ethnic diversity, while also predicting that an increasingly conservative social mood could impact negatively on frank discussion of these issues in the future.

The 2014 Rainbow Lecture on Diversity can be read in full here.