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Lord Justice Vos says firms and chambers bosses are ‘discriminatory’ towards students who aren’t like them

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Selection procedures for training contracts and pupillages favour the privileged, says top judge

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One of the most high profile judges in the Court of Appeal has slammed the unfair selection processes used by the legal profession to recruit students.

Speaking last night at a fundraising reception for Big Voice London — one of the capital’s leading legal youth engagement organisations — Lord Justice Vos rounded on firms and chambers bosses who are biased towards “privileged” people who remind them of themselves. Addressing a group of lawyers, students and journalists at the Lincoln’s Inn event, he thundered:

My view has always been that the barriers to entry to the legal profession are far too high for those from less privileged backgrounds who have no family background in the law or in other professions. The main barriers are financial ones, lack of proper advice and guidance in schools about how to get into the law, lack of available work experience or internships for the less privileged, so that their aspirations can be kindled and their drive harnessed, and the discriminatory selection procedures that still exist for some training contracts, pupillages and tenancies.

Frustratingly, Vos declined to name names. But a perusal of the Legal Cheek Most Lists and accompanying firm profiles — for top firms and leading chambers — should give readers a sense of which outfits are the most geared to hiring traditional types at the exclusion of almost everybody else.

Although Vos didn’t go into it, the situation is particularly bad among commercial sets at the bar, many of which are entirely dominated by Oxbridge graduates thanks to lazy, under-funded recruitment processes that are allowed to continue despite members hauling in record revenues.

To their credit, many City law firms are putting increasing resources into recruiting more widely, be it through building ties with non-Russell Group universities, launching contextual recruitment initiatives or developing career paths for non-graduates. But a widespread reluctance to disclose socio-economic diversity data means progress at a large number of outfits is slow.

Vos went on to despair at the group-think that prevails in law, where similar wealthy middle class types tend to join each other in coming to the same old boring conclusions. He reckons this is dangerous because it makes the legal profession one-dimensional and predictable. Vos explained:

Privileged people from good, but often very similar, social classes and educational institutions can certainly perform well in the law and in other professions. But they tend to see and solve problems in homogeneous ways. There are many different ways to solve problems — which is what lawyers do. If the UK legal profession is to be world beating — as it has been up to now — it needs to offer the problem solving abilities of people who see the world from all angles. That means recruiting people from all backgrounds across the spectrum.

One solution to getting a wider spread of society into the legal profession, argued Vos, was to get people thinking about the law at a much earlier stage via initiatives like Big Voice — whose headline projects include a Model Law Commission and a mooting competition with a final in the Supreme Court. Other impressive youth engagement schemes include the Citizenship Foundation’s excellent annual Bar National Mock Trial competition.

Only that way, reckoned the top judge, would ordinary people without loads of family friends who are lawyers be able to have a fair crack at negotiating selection procedures that “demand a high level of insight into the profession you are trying to join”.

Read Lord Justice Vos’s speech in full below:

Lord Justice Vos