City firms silent on whether they will follow PwC in ignoring A-level results

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By Judge John Hack on

Big Four accountancy firm shocks recruitment market and stuns Square Mile law firms with its bid to boost diversity


City law firms were stunned into silence this week when a Big Four accountancy practice shook the graduate recruitment market by saying it would no longer pore over applicants’ A-level results.

In announcing its shock move, PricewaterhouseCoopers — the second biggest of the global behemoths by revenue and headcount — maintained ditching an obsession with A-levels would have a dramatic impact on the business’s diversity.

“It’s a move that could drive radical changes in the social mobility and diversity of the professional services’ industry and how companies assess potential more broadly,” read a PWC statement.

“The strong correlation that exists in the UK between social class and school academic performance,” continued the global bean counters, “suggests that by placing too much emphasis on UCAS scores, employers will miss out on key talent from disadvantaged backgrounds, who can perform less well at school.”

Considering that PwC, along with fellow Big Four members EY and KPMG, has recently been licensed as an alternative business structure — effectively allowing it to become a law firm — how would the development be greeted by Square Mile lawyers?

Plunging heads deep into sand, seems to be the answer. Law firms contacted by Legal Cheek either ignored the question of whether they would follow suit, or fudged the issue.

Take, for example, Linklaters, the graduate recruitment team of which handles a shed-load of applications annually and therefore has to weigh up a lot of A-level maths, English and geography results.

Linklaters sits atop the Legal Cheek Law Firm Most List for training contracts, dishing out 110 annually. Would it follow the PwC lead?

“We constantly review our selection process to ensure we are recruiting the best talent from the widest possible sources,” responded a spokesman from Links Towers in Silk Street.

“We receive a large number of application forms but still ensure we read every single one. There is no element of online screening. This helps to ensure we take into account atypical and mitigating circumstances as well as people who started to excel at a later stage in life. This is reflected in the increasing diversity of our recruits.”

Ok, but what about A-levels? Still important?

“It is not something we are currently looking at,” said a spokeswoman at Tower Bridge-based City firm RPC. “When we screen our applications, academics do form an important part of the process but we do look at applications as a whole as well.”

City graduate recruitment specialists pointed out that law firms are increasingly adopting the “CV blind” approach, with London Docklands giant Clifford Chance and private client specialist Macfarlanes being perhaps the highest profile proponents.

The CV blind technique comes in several guises, but ultimately, sight is restored and the law firm recruiters take a good long look at the document, A-level results included.

But the accountants are adamant. Explained Gaenor Bagley, who travels under the intriguing title of head of people at PwC:

“As a progressive employer we recognise that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives. Removing the UCAS criteria will create a fairer and more modern system in which students are selected on their own merit, irrespective of their background or where they are from.”

What’s the betting it will take City law firms some time to come round to that view …