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

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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.”


Not Amused

It feels like a losing battle but I do keep TRYING to point out that not all universities in the UK are equal.

GCSE and A’level = equal = standardised grade boundaries and assessment levels
UK degrees = not equal = provider sets grade boundary, provider sets assessment level

Until all universities are equal, employers who want to discriminate in favour of academic ability are entitled to discriminate in favour of universities who they perceive to have the highest academic standards.


The Real Niteowl

“Until all universities are equal, employers who want to discriminate in favour of academic ability are entitled to discriminate in favour of universities who they perceive to have the highest academic standards.”

And perception is all that it is. Tell me, during WWII, if Oxbridge was so wonderful, why didn’t you just call up some Oxbridge grad engineers or professors and help them design you a tank that actually worked? Oh wait, I forgot, in North Africa your tank commanders fell to their knees and openly wept when they received the M3 Lee.

Number of Oxbridge engineers/professors/physicis/maths guys who designed the M3 Lee?


So then, why didn’t your guys just call up some Oxbridge… oh, never mind.



Well I’m convinced. I’m going to hang up my wig, join a monastery, weep and self-flagellate while contemplating the many inadequacies of my country’s systems of law and higher education. Thank you Niteowl, for showing me the light.



Ah yes, I forgot. Because the ability to build tanks is exactly the same as a law degree. Nice one. Idiot.


The Real Niteowl

This is about Oxbridge “Prestige”, which I understand is a Great Positional Good within your “society”. It’s important to have the pyramid built upon this foundation, I understand, even for foreign firms there whose audience is “London”, even though if you swim 50 miles east or west no one really cares about Oxbridge.

Without those tanks you wouldn’t even have your subordinated English “law” at all. Your country would have been in ruins 70 years ago.



Niteowl once again you are spouting utter nonsence. You also fail again to back up your assertions with any evidence. Are you really a lawyer?

Overseas applications for Oxbridge are up this year (see, )? Obviously those 11,000+ from Europe alone applying aren’t part of those who don’t care? Also your fellow countrymen who go there in their droves every year?

I’m not sure why you are so bitter about Oxbridge – perhaps you were rejected by them? Or perhaps you were attacked by a wig wearing Oxbridge grad at a young age?

Niteowl Attorney

I have serious misgivings about this article. The caliber of Oxford and Cambridge graduates is top notch, along with every other Russell Group university. I also think the UK has a lot to be proud of, wigs in particular.


The Real Niteowl

It doesn’t speak highly of your ethics if you need to imitate another person here, well, at least a Niteowl.

Oxbridge is regarded as the Rolex of the university world. Remember, they make more Rolexes each year than certain makes of Ford automobile.

Make what you will of that statement, and be sure to Enrol Your Kids in McOxbridge Today, for Guaranteed Success!


David Hughes

Well that would exclude at least 3 QCs I know personally. Good job they didn’t try for those firms.



This does not seem to be accurate as the top firms did not participate – so the percentage of Oxbridge/RG trainees will be even greater.

Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, DLA Piper, Holman Fenwick Willan and Simmons & Simmons did not participate in this survey. These firms have very large Oxbridge/RG intakes.


Paul Summerfield

Not surprised by this in the slightest.

I am from a non-traditional background (Uni wise) and after 3 attempts trying to get a pupillage I withdrew. Since then I have set up an advocacy company specialising in health profession regulation and I am doing rather well.

Do not give up as your talents can be put to use in other ways.



A Hull graduate is disappointed that top law firms want to recruit from good universities as opposed to ex-polytechnic degree mills? If they are so naive as to think a degree at Hull is anyway near equivalent to that from a Russell Group university then I suspect practicing at a top firm really isn’t for them.

As for the Oxbridge figure, if you were to factor in the firms that didn’t respond the figure would be even higher especially given the heavy Oxbridge intake at Slaughters. Add on to that the elite US firms (where the Oxbridge intake is often 80% or even 100%) then the numbers are even higher. 21% is thus a deceptively low figure.



Also, don’t forget that those who went to the top universities were also exceptionally bright students in school and that’s why they secured places at the top universities – or they attended expensive private schools and so were virtually guaranteed top grades in school and consequently a place at a top university.


Not Amused

Shhhhhh …. don’t tell Niteowl that the US firms in London only recruit Oxbridge or he’ll explode



Luckily they are recruiting lawyers not tank comanders, or his head would have exploded! It seems he is ahving an identity crisis anyway!



Oxbridge, Durham, LSE etc = better unis with better students, what is the problem with the best firms hiring them?



Cheeky little promotion for Durham there – don’t think they are in the Oxbridge league (Doxbridge tehe)






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

They are scrupulously fair.

Top firms attract top grads from top unis.

Hull is absolute pony. You don’t demonstrate the same potential by going there.

ps v odd Niteowl comment above. Maybe all the top Oxbridge talent were too busy at Bletchley Park.


The Real Niteowl

Of course employers should discriminate. A 2:1 degree from an ex-poly is not the same as a 2:1 from Oxbridge. Any fool should know that….



So judging from certain ignorant comments only Russell group universities produce talented students?
Pardon? What rubbish.

It is evidently clear people who agree with that assertion have never even mingled with people from non-traditional unis let alone possess the knowledge of the intellectual capabilities of such students, so how they gain the confidence to make an accurate assessment of the standard of students there is bewildering.

The people that raise such assertions were probably raised in the same privileged background as most in this elitist legal profession hence why they feel a sense of entitlement to places at top firms.

If anything those at ex-poly unis surely have to work harder than those at RG unis, as those unis are more independent and students aren’t silver spoon fed. In addition to this those (ex-poly) uni’s certainly do not have access to the legal career resources/connections advice available at top universities.

Students may not attend RG uni’s for a variety of reasons , possibly to do with the fact those from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have attended state schools and state schools do not promote the importance of league tables, could be to do with not knowing they wanted to follow the legal career path (and not knowing how discriminatory firms are against different unis). Even weaker A-levels? Exams taken when students are 16/17/18 may not be a true reflection of their ability but would have affected the uni they could attend. It could be a variety of reasons.

Anyway, my main point is = NEWS FLASH! Intelligent and highly skilled students do attend ex-poly unis and if law firms truly want to promote diversity that would mean diversity in the amount of universities they select from.



Sorry but YOURE talking rubbish. The equation is brighter students, whatever their background, get into better universities, and therefore are the best law firm candidates. No one said richer or more privileged students only get into the top universities.

Where ever did you come to the conclusion that state schools do not promote the importance of league tables?? I for one went to a state school where application to oxbiridge was actively encouraged.

It seems you’re the typical knee-jerk chip on the shoulder type who looks for discrimination even when it is not present.



finally someone saying something less banal! what about foreign students that did not manage to pass the IELTS exam with the required mark and therefore did not manage to get into their preferred university even if they had the highest grades. that happened to me, and funny enough the first year of university i got 80 in many assessments. you might say that non-russel group universities are easier but that is such a stupid stereotype. it all depends on the teachers expectations, and most of my teachers also teach in russel-group universities.
another point i really agree with is in relation to career services and networking. i have a cousin studying biology who attends a russel group university and she got a sandwich year work placement in a UK industry: she had very good grades but the university itself was in partnership with these industries which had to provide a work placement for some students. in my university there no such thing, if you want to do a work placement module you have to find it yourself. therefore in SOME cases those who made it from not highly-ranked university probably had even more determination and talent to manage to make it without much help. if you do some research, cambridge undergraduate method of study, for example, is different from the other universities. this does not necessarily mean that it is better. i think, as (possibly) future lawyers, maybe we should be a bit more open minded… particularly we should be able to look at the bigger picture and not just at some statistics and ranking…or even worse, just at some things we hear from others. everyone knows that oxbridge and russel group universities are top notch, fair enough. i have volunteered (law related work) with a girl from cambridge for example, and what i have found is that she was intelligent but she lacked pragmatism, and even the most basic issue were answered by her in such a complex way which was totally unnecessary. this might have been a consequence of her education or it might have just been one of her personal inabilities. in any case this is just to show that not necessarily education is everything. there are many more factors which are involved in being an excellent lawyer!! moreover, university is what you make out of it. it might sound cheese but it is the truth!


Not Amused

As dave says I think your presumptions are flawed.

However I think it is incredibly important that we take EVERY opportunity to inform state school kids that the university you attend has a big impact on your career. All universities are not equal. There is no equal quality of teaching. There is no equal or standardised level of testing. Employers therefore can and do discriminate in favour of universities who they think have higher academic standards – most good employers put a lot of effort in to assessing unis.

If you are in a state school then I know that sometimes, for whatever reason, people do not tell you this fact. But it is a very very important fact and one which you need to accept. Work hard and talk to your teachers, get the best predicted grades you can. Research online the university league tables. Find out what the Russel Group is. Try and make informed decisions when making your UCAS selection (visit unis if you can or google them) – you get 6 choices and a good plan is 5 of the best uni’s who give offers at the level of your predicted grades and then also try to have a reserve which gives lower offers.

If you need help or are unsure then ask your teachers. If you want further help then contact one of the many organisations who are trying to get bright kids from state school into our best universities – that might be the Social Mobility Foundation, Pathways to law or the University themselves. Thee are a large amount of academics and others who really really want you to have the courage to apply. Please don’t listen to anything negative. Please do not listen to ANYONE who says that top universities aren’t for ‘people like you’. They are.



Yes, firms are right to want the very best of candidates and that’s why they recruit from the best universities. However, I think that perhaps it would be a good thing to review the recruitment process, because many excellent candidates might be left out due to the A-level filters.

Yes, if you have straight As, you will probably be studying at a top 20 uni, but what about those who were bright, but dropped out of school for whatever circumstances, or didn’t think A-levels were for them, or didn’t really realise how important A-levels would be in their career? What about them? What if at some point, a few years later they realised their mistake and did whatever possible to get into a Russell Group uni (because for mature students universities consider multiple other factors too) and graduated with a 1st?

Three years ago, I had a fellow student who decided to study for a degree in law after 20 years of leaving school with no qualifications and 3 children. She was working as a freelance consultant and before she started her law degree at a Russell Group university, she had also graduated with a 1st class degree in psychology from the Open University.

After getting a 1st class degree in law as well, she started the LPC, and even though she had no aspirations of working for Linklaters, Freshfields, Clifford Chance and all the other Magic Circle firms, she was slightly shocked by the small number of firms that would consider applicants who came to law relatively late in life.

So the question is why is it so difficult for firms to even consider some applicants with a more diverse background?



Look at this from the other direction. A company (law firm, consultancy, whatever) is offering a job. It will interview 10 candidates. It receives 100 paper applications, which include written questions about why the candidate is interested and gives them opportunities to show what they know, etc etc.

Of those 100 applications, 20 feature written answers that pique the interest of those in charge of receruiting at the company (this is a progressive company that does not just apply a filter). The other 80 do not and go in the bin.

The recruiters are now faced with the task of picking 10 from those 20 to take forward to interview. Let us imagine that 10 of the applications are from candidates who have done everything “right”. They worked hard throughout school, have impecccable grades, beat the competition and got into a good university, where they continued to perform well academically and did all sorts of wonderful and marvellous things with their time.

The other 10, despite being mostly impressive on paper, and having done equally marvellous and wonderful things, have at some stage cocked up. They failed a couple of exams once upon a time, went to a less good university with less stringent entrance requirements or performed less well at university than they otherwise might have done.

Now I accept that there may be situations when one of the latter 10 is able to demonstrate something exceptional that overcomes their once-upon-a-time cock-up and gets them an interview place. In the absence of that though, which one of the 10 who has not cocked-up gets denied an interview in order to give one of the (still very good) candidates who has cocked-up a chance?

This illustrates the problem that there are more than enough people with perfect CVs AND all the required skills and personality traits to fill the top (in the sense of most desirable, or at least most desired) jobs. In the current climate many of those will go away empty-handed. So if you have a blemish on your CV you will have to overcome people who are probably just as good as you in practice, and better than you on paper, before you can get to the table. There are very few people who are so good that there is not someone just as good or better than them at whatever it is they are trying to do. If that someone who is as good or better than you also has a better record on paper, then unfortunately they are likely to ge picked over you. This is unfair and penalises people for silly things like exams taken at 16, but it is what it is and will not change unless there is a sudden explosion in the number of high skilled job vacancies.


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