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18 City law firms launch diversity work experience scheme to prove they don’t just want posh students

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State school-educated and other “disadvantaged” undergrads wanted

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A new pro-diversity initiative has been created by 18 of the big City firms in yet another push for diversity.

Last month, Legal Cheek reported that, despite a host of recent initiatives to broaden access, the legal profession is still heavily dominated by privately educated lawyers.

In a swift reaction to these damning stats, a new social mobility initiative has been cobbled together under the name: City Solicitors Horizons.

The three-year scheme targets bright and hard-working law students from “disadvantaged backgrounds”, offering mentoring from lawyers and one-to-one training sessions. The big sell is a work experience placement with one of the 18 sponsoring law firms — including magic circle giant Linklaters and global megafirm Herbert Smith Freehills.

The thrust of City Solicitors Horizons is to combat the so-called “poshness test” adopted by recruiters — yet the scheme only targets the poshest areas of the country. The student participants — of which there will be 50 a year — are taken from universities across the capital and the south.

When we reached out to Gemma Watts, who is handling the PR for the new project, to question this, she told us:

[City Solicitors Horizons is] currently a pilot scheme, so it is limited to students from universities in London/the South at present as that’s where the current delivery partner SEO London can do training. We intend to expand it, in terms of numbers of students and geography, once more firms join. The Prime Commitment started with 21 firms, and now there are 89 and it has a much broader reach — we would like to emulate its success.

As mentioned by Watts, there are already a number of pro-diversity in law schemes, such as Pathways Plus and Prime, so what makes this one different?

Roger Finbow, chairman of the City Solicitors’ Educational Trust’s management committee and a trustee of the Legal Education Foundation, said:

[T]he provision of support and assistance for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are already reading law at universities and wish to join the legal profession is noticeably lacking, and many of these students still find it difficult to obtain training contracts. City Solicitors Horizons aims to address this issue and to give participants the opportunity to compete on a more level footing with other students.

For law students interested in the programme, applications will open in January 2016.

The scheme’s definition of “disadvantaged” is incredibly loose — and goes some way to evidencing how out of touch the legal profession is with the rest of the country. The principal requirements are that the student must be, either, from a non-selective state school, the first generation of their immediate family to attend university, or come from a socially disadvantaged background. They must also be committed to joining the legal profession and, in the judgement of their university, have a strong potential to succeed academically.

City Solicitors Horizons’ ultimate aim is to help participants enter the legal profession as trainee solicitors. It remains to be seen whether these objectives will be met.

The full list of firms participating in the programme: Addleshaw Goddard, Baker & McKenzie, CMS Cameron McKenna, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Eversheds, Herbert Smith Freehills, Holman Fenwick Willan, Linklaters, Macfarlanes, Mayer Brown, Pinsent Masons, Reed Smith, Skadden, Stephenson Harwood, Stewarts Law, Sullivan & Cromwell, Travers Smith and White & Case.

The full list of universities participating in the programme: Anglia Ruskin University, Birkbeck College, Bournemouth University, Brunel University, City University London, King’s College London, Kingston University, London Metropolitan University, London South Bank University, LSE, Middlesex University, Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, St Mary’s University, UCL, University of Bedfordshire, University of East London, University of Essex, University of Greenwich, University of Hertfordshire, University of Kent, University of Law, University of Portsmouth, University of Reading, University of Roehampton, University of Southampton, University of Surrey, University of Sussex, University of West London, and University of Westminster.