Social mobility work experience scheme pledges to stay closer to students as chair passes from Allen & Overy to Hogan Lovells

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By Alex Aldridge on

PRIME seeks to move to next level after giving 4,000 kids City law placements in five years


City law diversity scheme PRIME will prioritise the building of closer long term ties to students as its chair moves from Allen & Overy to Hogan Lovells.

Since being launched in 2011 by A&O boss David Morley, the work experience project has given over 4,000 school students placements in a host of elite corporate law firms in London.

That’s almost double the original target of 2,500 by 2015, and has been helped by vast numbers of firms and companies’ legal departments joining the initiative’s 22 founder members; now PRIME has a whopping 89 organisations on its books.

But the impressive growth has coincided with recent criticism after a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) study found that 67% of PRIME students said they had no further contact with the firm after they completed their work experience.

This has ruffled feathers as it shows that one of the six key minimum standards set out by the founding 22 PRIME members, “maintaining contact with students after work experience has ended”, is not being met satisfactorily.

As a result, Legal Cheek understands that there has been a period of reflection about how Morley’s pioneering work can be taken to the next level. New chair Nicholas Cheffings’ statement upon taking the helm reflects this, with the Hogan Lovells real estate litigation chief commenting:

David has left a lasting legacy, initiating collaboration across the legal profession that has inspired real change in the legal sector’s approach to opening up access to our world. A recent independent evaluation of PRIME by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) concluded that members have been successful in helping young people to learn more about the legal profession, but that we could do more to stay in touch with participants following their work experience. This will be a key area of focus for me, as we look to build upon, strengthen and improve what we have started, working with other stakeholders to ensure that more young people with talent but without connections get the opportunity to succeed in our profession. Opening doors for them is the core objective for me and for my fellow Board members.

As one of the first firms to use contextual graduate recruitment and sponsor undergraduates from underprivileged backgrounds — via long term bursary partnerships with LSE, and the universities of Durham and York — Hogan Lovells is seen as having the expertise to develop PRIME into a more rigorous programme.

PRIME’s other minimum standards include pledges that “a number of places that is not less than 50% of the number of training contracts [is] offered each year”, that “a minimum of 30-35 hours of work experience [is provided] per student”, that training is given “on key business and personal skills in areas such as oral and written presentation, networking and negotiation”, that “financial assistance during the programme” isprovided, and that “an insight into the range of careers available in the legal profession (for lawyers and non-lawyers) and the potential routes into those careers” will be given.

Outgoing chair Morley — who is also stepping down as A&O’s senior partner — commented:

I am incredibly proud of what PRIME has achieved since its inception, however, it’s clear that there is still work to be done and I know Nicholas will drive the initiative forward. My hope is that through programmes like PRIME the legal profession will become more representative of the society it serves and young people from all backgrounds will be inspired to join it.

You can apply to do work experience with PRIME here.