Oxbridge and Russell Group graduates dominate latest trainee intake of top law firms

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By Alex Aldridge on

21% of 2013 trainees are Oxbridge, 58% are Russell Group — only 15% went to other unis, with 6% studying abroad.


Top law firms’ strong preference for graduates of the nation’s most illustrious universities remains strong, a new survey has found.

Out of 1,049 trainees taken on by 24 leading UK law firms in 2013, 219 (21%) were Oxbridge graduates and 613 were Russell Group graduates (58%). Just 156 (15%) of the trainees came from other UK universities, with the remaining 61 (6%) from foreign universities. (For the purposes of the survey — by the pay-walled magazine Legal Week (£) — Oxbridge and Russell Group are considered separate categories, despite Oxford and Cambridge being members of the Russell Group.)

The survey was targeted at the top 30 UK law firms by revenue. Six firms declined to provide details of their trainee intake. These included Clifford Chance, known for its ‘CV Blind’ initiative which has seen students from non-traditional universities including Bath Spa given training contracts with the firm. The other firms which didn’t participate were Slaughter and May, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, DLA Piper, Holman Fenwick Willan and Simmons & Simmons.

The firms which the survey showed to have the highest proportion of Oxbridge-educated trainees were Hogan Lovells (44%), Herbert Smith Freehills (39%), Withers (38%), Ashurst (35%) and Allen & Overy (33%). At the other end of the spectrum, Irwin Mitchell, Kennedys and DAC Beachcroft didn’t recruit a single Oxbridge-educated trainee in 2013.

The firms with the most non-traditional university graduates were Irwin Mitchell (41% of whose trainees attended neither Oxbridge nor a Russell Group institution), Eversheds (38% non-traditional unis), Berwin Leighton Paisner (35%) and Kennedys (33%).

Despite an explosion in pro-diversity rhetoric among those at the top of law over the last few years, the 2013 statistics show little improvement in the equivalent figures for 2010, when Oxbridge graduates made up 24% of top 30 firms’ trainees, and Russell Group graduates 55%.

Responding to the survey, Hull University law graduate Lorraine Kudom expressed her disappointment with top firms’ continued preference for the Oxbridge and Russell Group crowd:

“Recruitment should be fair and firms should equally consider non-Russell Group students, especially if they demonstrate the same potential,” she said.

But Chris White, founder of diversity and networking group Aspiring Solicitors, had a different take, telling Legal Cheek:

“I think we should be careful when discussing statistics around diversity and academic institutions as taken out of context they can be quite misleading. For example, Oxford University has a really diverse student population with over 60% of students coming from state schools and a significant proportion of students from other underrepresented groups in the legal profession.

“Gone are the days when Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities are made up of a particular type of student (other than academically gifted to specific levels). Furthermore, academic background is just one element in a huge area of diversity that the legal profession must consider and seek to improve.”