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Number of privately educated lawyers at Linklaters suddenly halves as it becomes government ‘social mobility champion’

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Magic circle firm gets into a tangle with statistics

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The news that magic circle giant Linklaters and international mega firm Baker & McKenzie have become government-backed “social mobility champions” is welcome. As part of the Social Mobility Business Compact — which includes ten other big companies from various industries — Linklaters and Bakers have to meet various criteria aimed at broadening access to top jobs.

But amid the positivity surrounding the initiative sit some rather embarrassing “teething problems” with statistics.

Linklaters has commendably been disclosing socio-economic diversity data since the Legal Services Board recommended firms start doing this in 2011. None of the other magic circle firms publish this information. So Linklaters deserves genuine credit for its openness — particularly as the figures reveal some rather uncomfortable realities. Last year 41% of Linklaters’ partners and 31-36% of its associates had been privately educated. The equivalent figure for the general UK population is 7%.

This year, however, the picture has changed dramatically — with a mere 19% of partners and 18-20% of associates having been privately educated. Compare and contrast below — noting the new “not assigned” column.

Linklaters 2012-13 social mobility stats

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Linklaters 2014 social mobility stats

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This leaves the worrying question: is the government’s Social Mobility Business Compact about little more than the cynical re-jigging of statistics?

Linklaters insists that it isn’t, with a spokesperson telling Legal Cheek this morning:

“The ‘not assigned’ category is simply a result of having been out of synch with the Law Society and SRAs’ requirements to publish data at certain times of the year. After some initial teething problems, we’re learning when and how to best produce these statistics, so as to most accurately provide a snapshot of our workforce.”

Note that until it signed up to become a social mobility champion, Baker & McKenzie didn’t disclose socio-economic diversity statistics. And now that it has done, its figures are almost meaningless as more than half of the firm’s qualified lawyers declined to provide this information. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and participation was notably higher among trainees — with only 13% not responding (overall, 37% of Bakers’ trainees were privately educated).