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Stats show firms and chambers target small pool of privately educated recruits

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Fewer than 9% of law graduates went to private schools, but up to 40% of young lawyers at City legal practices and commercial sets were privately educated

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Further evidence has emerged suggesting top law firms and chambers specifically target a narrow group of privately educated students for recruitment.

Recently released statistics show that while fewer than 9% of those applying for law degrees are privately educated, nearly 35% of associates at some City law firms did not attend state schools, while that figure for some chambers reaches more than 40%.

The data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency was reported yesterday. It shows that law as a degree subject is far more popular with state-educated students than might be assumed.

However, Legal Cheek research shows that top law firms are populated by a far higher percentage of privately educated lawyers than is the case of those reading law.

Of the firms responding to this year’s Legal Cheek socio-economic diversity survey, magic circle giant Linklaters reported that 34% of its associates were privately educated, while Anglo-Australian firm Herbert Smith Freehills reported that 30% of its associates were from that education demographic.

The partnerships at those firms were even more private school-orientated, with 44% at Herbies and 41% at Links. Note, however, that Linklaters has since published dramatically altered new statistics in which the firm’s percentage of privately educated lawyers has — bizarrely — roughly halved since 2013

Other firms responding to the Legal Cheek survey had lower proportions of privately educated lawyers, but they were still at least double that of the percentage of law degree students.

For example, Addleshaw Goddard reported that 16% of its associates (and 25% of partners) came from private schools. Those figures for the London office of US firm Squire Patton Boggs were 17% and 15%, respectively.

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DAC Beachcroft did not distinguish between associates and partners; it reported an overall figure of 28% of its lawyers having a private education.

Of course, City law firms don’t have a monopoly in the legal profession on bagging privately educated recruits — the bar is predictably keen on that demographic as well.

Only two sets in the top 10 by revenue have disclosed socio-economic background figures. Gray’s Inn’s 3 Verulam Buildings reports that 41% of its juniors are privately educated, with that figure rocketing to 75% of QCs.

Maitland Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn doesn’t provide a seniority breakdown; however, it reports that overall, 33% of the set’s tenants are privately educated.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency figures fall against a backdrop of fears that City firms and commercial barristers’ chambers engage in little more than window-dressing around social mobility.

Nonetheless, the elite end of the legal profession continues to promote its socio-economic diversity credentials. On Friday a government-backed initiative named Linklaters and the London office of US-founded global firm Baker & McKenzie as being “social mobility champions”.

The law firms join accountancy firms Deloitte, EY, KPMG and Grant Thornton in a total of a dozen businesses that have been selected to spread the social diversity word.

The hope is that the initiative will help to focus the minds of law firms on an aspect of their diversity campaigns that has tended to be neglected.

Sarah Gregory, Baker & McKenzie’s inclusion and diversity partner, described the government’s social diversity compact as being “a call to action” that “has played a key part in bringing social mobility to the forefront of our commercial objectives”. To coincide with the launch of the initiative, the firm has for the first time published statistics on the socio-economic background of its lawyers, albeit in a survey marred by low participation rates at senior levels. Gregory continued:

“Since signing up to the compact we have taken tangible steps to improve access to our firm and to the profession, which include a range of work experience and mentoring opportunities for students and outreach volunteering programmes for our people”.

Further Reading:

Research: Some City firms are not as white and male as you might think — but many still are [Legal Cheek]