Research: top students from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to apply for elite training contracts

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By Thomas Connelly on

‘Contextual recruitment’ needed to stop the privileged bagging all the jobs, says agency which developed method

Instagram (paddy_wagstaff)
Instagram (paddy_wagstaff)

High achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to apply for training contracts at elite law firms than wealthy wannabes, according to research released today.

The data — collected by diversity recruitment business Rare — revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that top law firms received a disproportionate number of applications from students from well-off backgrounds.

Rare claims that students achieving top marks at A-level but who attend lower performing schools are 15% less likely to apply to the City’s legal elite.

Collecting data from 54,000 applicants and 671 successful hires, the for-profit recruiter suggested that top students from lower-performing schools are up to 50% more likely to get hired if the firm they are applying to uses Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System (CRS).

CRS assesses applicants’ economic background and personal circumstances alongside their application responses. It provides law firms with a contextual profile for every wannabe lawyer, meaning that their achievements are placed in context of their upbringing.

With all five magic circle firms already signed up, other law firms using Rare’s system include scheme pioneers Hogan Lovells and Herbert Smith Freehills, plus Ashurst, Baker & McKenzie, Macfarlanes, Norton Rose Fulbright, RPC, Travers Smith and Withers.

According to the report, certain socio-economic hurdles can have a greater impact on students’ performance than others. For example, being the first generation of your family to attend university has a noticeably lesser impact on a student’s grades than being from a financially disadvantaged background. Furthermore, extreme personal circumstances such as being in care will have the most profound impact.

At a Legal Cheek event held last year, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger indicated his support for the concept. Urging the profession to widen the scope of its recruitment, he asked top law firms to consider high-performing students who didn’t attend the best schools or universities.

Commenting on the findings, Rare’s managing director, Raphael Mokades, said:

The early signs of a new approach to graduate recruitment are encouraging, with some clear indications that greater use of contextual data can widen the talent pool and identify bright graduates who have outperformed their circumstances and might otherwise be missed. This expands the available student base for top employers and ensures those with genuinely impressive achievements, and potential are not missed, whatever their backgrounds.