Top Manchester QC questions Andy Burnham’s claim that it’s harder for northerners to become lawyers

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By Thomas Connelly on

It’s grim up north for law students, indicates Manchester mayoral hopeful


A leading Manchester-based silk has taken to Twitter to question shadow home secretary Andy Burnham’s claim that it’s harder for northerners to become lawyers.

During a speech to launch his candidacy to become Greater Manchester’s new mayor, Burnham suggested that children in the north would have “the mickey” taken out of them if they openly harboured ambitions to become lawyers or other top professionals.

Immediately firing back at the Labour MP’s bold assertion, Gerard McDermott QC — who is a tenant at Manchester’s 9 St John Street and London’s Outer Temple Chambers — was quick to point out that there were actually “quite a lot of Mancunian lawyers”.

McDermott QC — who left university with a 2:2 and spent six months in an electrical engineering factory before landing a pupillage in Manchester — received social-media support in the shape of solicitor turned ex-professional rugby player Brian Moore. Tweeting this morning, Moore suggested that it wasn’t a problem for northerners to become lawyers.

Liverpool-born Burnham — who studied English at Cambridge — claimed that England had a “London-centric” mentality, and that he had personally found it difficult to leave his northern routes and move to London to pursue a career in politics. Addressing those gathered at his campaign launch in the Salford Quays’ area of Manchester, Burnham said:

It’s harder sometimes growing up in the North West of England, isn’t it? Because you say to somebody, ‘Oh, do you know what, I’d like to be a doctor, or I’d like to be a lawyer, or a member of Parliament’, you would worry that you’d have the mickey taken out of you straight away. In a good way sometimes, brought back down to earth, but because of that mentality perhaps we don’t lift our sights a bit and walk a bit taller and feel confident and say, ‘Yeah, do you know what, I can do that’.

Burnham’s comments led to wider ridicule on Twitter. One tweeter described him as “a tourist to the north”, while a Game of Thrones fan suggested the Labour man’s speech sounded like he was running for the “position of Lord of Winterfell”. At one point Burnham’s speech even led to him becoming the subject of a new internet meme mocking his pretensions at being a stereotypical Manc.

But as far as the legal profession is concerned, perhaps Burnham isn’t that far off the mark. A Legal Cheek analysis of the 2014 Bar Barometer report revealed — somewhat unsurprisingly — that the vast majority of pupillages up for grabs were in the south. Of the 256 pupillages advertised on the official bar site that year, a whopping 209 were based on the south-eastern circuit but just 27 on the north and north-eastern circuits combined.

The training contract situation is similarly skewed in favour of the capital. According to the Law Society‚Äôs latest statistical report — released last month — over half of the 5,457 trainee solicitor positions up for grabs in 2014-2015 were based in London.