Revealed: Nearly 60% of rookie barristers did their undergraduate degree at Oxbridge

The 2016-17 Chambers Most List — released today — makes for sobering reading for wannabe lawyers at lesser unis


If you didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, you face an uphill struggle to become a barrister.

That’s one of the standout messages from the 2016-17 Chambers Most List as it goes live today. Legal Cheek’s annual survey of the top barristers’ sets in the land reveals that a staggering 59% of new tenants did their undergraduate degree at Oxbridge.

To put this in context, consider that out of the 24,000 students who accepted an offer to study law at a higher education institute last year, only about 400 went to Oxford or Cambridge — which offered, respectively, 195 and 207 first year places.

Our study considered the educational background of the five newest tenants at 50 of the leading chambers in the country. And it showed the Oxbridge obsession to go beyond undergraduate degrees. When rookie barristers’ postgraduate education is taken into account as well, close to 80% of them have one of our nation’s premier duo of universities on their CV.

There are, happily, some exceptions to the rule, with 15 chambers having more junior barristers with non-Oxbridge undergraduate degrees than alumni of good old Cantab or Oxon.

So which top chambers are most and least Oxbridge dominated? Here are some graphics to illustrate:

Most Oxbridge undergrads


Least Oxbridge undergrads


The full list is here, under ‘Most Oxbridge Educated New Tenants’.

The definitive guide to the top sets in England & Wales [Chambers Most List 2016-17]


Not Amused

Whatever next? Competent surgeons? Athletes who aren’t obese? Musicians who can play?


So you think that the Magic Circle firms should also be dominated by just two schools? Highly doubt every department in the two unis are better than top law departments across the country.

Also it effectively bars students from entering the profession at 18. Which is a bit of a harsh test at such a young age.


“Effectively bars” – what a load of rubbish. There’s still 40% from other universities!


You do realise over 20,000 students graduate with qualifying law degrees every year, and Oxbridge counts for maybe 400-500 of those, right? Even if you expand to all degree disciplines from all Russell Groups and relatively high rankings non-Russell Groups, Oxbridge grads count for what, 5-6% at most? Yet their grads acquire 60% of available opportunities at decent Chambers, and almost exclusively control the commercial bar? Mad.

If Chambers (and many London firms) refuse to break the trend on selecting on basis of university, then both the industry and government need to start closing a LOT of qualifying LLB programmes, as students are being outright lied to for tuition money. Seriously, how the hell does Canterbury Christ Church or Southampton Solent even advertise their LLBs???


Actually I was a student at Canterbury Christ Church. In my year group, 4 graduates went to do the BPTC. 3 of them have gained pupillage. Maybe not at chambers that you think are prestigious enough but they gained pupillage nonetheless. Legal Cheek’s opinion is only based on the chambers they include in their stupid ‘most list’ and not all chambers in the whole country. Also remember that LC is run by someone who’s a failed barrister himself, despite presumably not going to a ‘lesser’ uni. Goes to show doesn’t it.


Basing employment decisions over the assumption that humans peak at 17 (when university applications are due) is completely sensical… yeah.


The top sets don’t really seem to be struggling – it would appear that their employment decisions are pretty ‘sensical’.


You don’t have to hire the best talent to not struggle …

I’m not sure of your point?

Seems you’re implying the only reason they’re not struggling is because they’re hiring the best, which are Oxbridge. One only need look at history where law was only open to a very select few (not possibly the best talent actually available). Chambers did not struggle then.

I’m afraid your point is rubbish.

Boh Dear

If this is just based on your ‘Most List’ then this is very misleading and unhelpful. This is more so the case if you’re only considering ‘Magic/Silver Circle’ sets.

Degree grade has been omitted and that is relevant. At some, indeed many sets are more interested in your degree classification rather than where you got it.


What considerations decide which sets are selected for the “Most” list?


The requirement for being included on the ‘Most list’ is that the majority of people who work there have been to Oxbridge. Otherwise, LC wouldn’t be able to write articles stating that over 80% of barristers studied there.

Heavy sighs

Quite apart from the silliness of this whole “Elite chambers choose elite students shocker!” nonsense, how on earth does it make sense to distinguish between undergrad and postgrad? The implication from these “statistics” is that non-Oxbridge students have a better shot at getting into say Quadrant, which is one of the 0/5 chambers. 3 of the 5 you count as “non-Oxbridge” because they got first class undergrad degrees elsewhere have distinctions on the BCL. Good luck with that.

Oh, and it’s “fewest”.


Hear hear. I am sick to the back teeth of the stupid snobbery from Legal Cheek which is run by a dude who couldn’t even get pupillage himself. Stop peddling out false statistics that are based on your own selective choice of London chambers. Luckily the scholarships committee of the Inns which is run by actual barristers doesn’t share your snobbery. They often hand out large awards to students who have not gone to Oxbridge and who show great talent.


It makes sense for Alex to distinguish between undergrad and postgrad because he is clinging on to some desperate belief that he is special, more special than people who have excelled elsewhere and gained entry to the BCL and excelled there too, outperforming many who did their undergrad at Oxford. Therefore he has to use this ridiculously tenuous argument to somehow diminish their achievement. Thankfully most people realise it’s utter bull.

Tommy's putrefied grandma

Tommy studied at the illustrious Newcastle University and then self-funded his BPTC. I’m so proud of him, now he’s an elite journalist.

Barristah Ben

…and the imbecile actually went on to pay for the BPTC. As if he could ever bag a pupillage.



They’re definitely not some Oxbridge-free zone.

Having done a mini at Quadrant, I can safely say that their tenants and pupils have extremely strong academic backgrounds. 1st in the year + Oxbridge postgrad + Ivy League postgrad was surprisingly normal there.

Butthurt wannabe barrister

Big surprise, the Oxbridgers are predominantly at dusty commercial sets.

Reflecting on things more generally, many people seem to think that merely attending Oxford or Cambridge means you are significantly more competent than someone from a “lesser” university. I never understood that. There’s no denying that the quality of teaching at Oxbridge is good, and one must have obtained good A-Levels to attend, but a First from a university lower in the ranks (perhaps not too far down, though) outstrips a middling grade from Oxbridge. There are times I genuinely believe it’s the worldview and character development Oxbridge imbues on its attendees rather than their education than woos chambers.

But why should the beginning, and in many cases, only the beginning, of one’s career path decide one’s trajectory?


Fewest* Oxbridge undergrads. Clearly (and ironically) not written by an Oxbridge undergrad.

Heavy sighs

Actually, there is a further irony to this in that it was written by an Oxbridge graduate who could not get into chambers despite his alleged golden ticket. As a failed Oxbridge pupillage-seeker, Alex knows full well that it is not as simple as he is suggesting. An Oxbridge degree is by no means sufficient to get into a top chambers – you will generally need a first in an Oxbridge degree and/or an otherwise excellent CV (as well as excellence at interview). This is irresponsible clickbait written by someone who knows the true position only too well. If the position were as is persistently screeched on Legal Cheek, there would be no Legal Cheek because Alex Aldridge would be sitting in Fountain Court.


Hahahahaha. So so so true. No doubt his extreme sense of entitlement shone through at interviews. Which spawned those idiotic articles that suggested that entry to the BPTC should be limited to the Russell Group. Well, Alex, if students from these ‘lesser’ universities are doomed, then surely they should present no competition for you? Or is it just unbearable to swallow the fact that many of their grads have succeeded where you did not?


You know everything about him and read everything he writes like a fan boy. Then try to insult him on a very personal level. Perhaps your university could have taught you how have class. You’re the one who sounds bitter, not Alex. When was the last time you wrote something that has thousands of readers? Flamers. An embarrassing by-product of the digital age.

Cue the “hi Alex” comments below which is always original.

Nigel Farage's 2nd chin

“in that it was written by an Oxbridge graduate”

errrr wrong.


All of these comments have ~10 minutes left before the LC censor (aka Alex) gets all erect and pre-emptively deletes the lot.


That’s interesting. Why do so many think he went to Oxford? That sorta explains his Occupy the Inns alter ego saying that entry to the bar should be restricted to the Russell Group. Am guessing that if he had gone to Oxford he would have been even more bold and suggested it be restricted to Oxbridge.


First of all, an 18 year old is way too young to study for a law degree, so the whole educational system is wrong in this country. The only reason why the majority of new barristers are from ‘Oxbridge’ is because their parents have been influencing them to do well in terms of academia from the young age. No surprise there, really.


You clearly don’t understand Oxbridge. Loads of students there from poor backgrounds, loads without pushy parents. Oxford and Cambridge spend more than access than all other uk unis combined.

Oxbridge isn’t a golden ticket for the bar. I got s decent 2:1 from Oxford but didn’t go to the bar because I knew my grades weren’t high enough. I could take a well paid job at a goood firm or spend years doing various masters degrees without any guarantee of a pupillage. The reality is that the pupils at these ‘top’ chambers are much more than undergrads – they probably all have firsts and have done the BCL


Isn’t it circa 40% of Oxbridge graduates are privately educated?


Did you at least read or attempted to read what I wrote? I never said that all Oxbridge students are privately educated, all I am saying is that they have been prepared in advance to join the top University in the country.

Attention to detail my friend.


Wouldn’t be surprised if this number was around 95% for the commercial bar…


What’s the percentage of Oxbridge educated rookie lawyers at Bond Dickinson’s Newcastle office?

Just Anonymous

Newsflash: profession heavily dependent on elite academic ability is heavily associated with people who received the best academic education at our best universities.

And this comes as a surprise to people because…

Comp and Oxford Grad

Once again the diversity problem isn’t Oxbridge, it’s private schools. I’d be interested to see how many of these top rookies went to a comprehensive. Not many I bet. Funny thing is, the better Oxbridge’s (currently appalling) access efforts get, the lower the percentage of Oxbridge grads getting into top chambers will be, while the number of silver spoons getting into chambers will stay the same. There’s just no substitute for an interview polished with decades of entitlement.

Not that I’m biased, or anything.

Not Amused

It is an important point you raise.

The ‘anti-Oxbridge’ movement is a coalition against meritocracy. Inevitably (and much like the modern labour party) it is composed of an uneasy alliance between the privileged (who fear meritocracy threatens their privilege) and the less able.

There is a very real risk that pressure to admit more young people from bad universities will not end up benefitting the bright but poor born children (they can get in to the top universities). It will instead benefit the thick but wealthy child with sharp elbowed parents and family connections.

Butthurt 2.0

The term “poor born” sounds archaic, and makes me feel a little sick.

Young people from working class, ethnic minority or low-income families will NOT get into top universities as easily as those from the “correct” demographic. This is because there are forces at play that the Bar, academic institutions and “high society” in general do not seem to be grasping. People of less privileged backgrounds face day-to-day difficulties the more affluent will never experience, feel alienated by social circles associated with elite institutions, and more generally, feel like outsiders to a culture that screams “privileged”.

And it gets worse the further you go – for the most part, My LLM cohort was ridiculously out of touch with the everyday life of working people, and my BPTC cohort was chocked full of pompous gap yah types who have never done a hard day’s work in their life.

But then perhaps that means they’re well-suited to the commercial Bar, and upstarts from the peasant-end of the university rankings should stick to something less taxing, or perhaps go into crime or family law.

Seriously, f**k all of you XD

Not Amused

“People of less privileged backgrounds” sounds archaic to me. It reminds me of 1997. Of incredibly wealthy Blairites who kept telling everyone how much they cared about poor people and who spent 13 years entrenching privilege and presiding over a boom in the independent school sector.

Virtue signalling compassion narcissists who care more about putting others down for using the ‘wrong’ terminology than they do about doing anything to help the poor.

Euch. That makes me feel sick.


The fact you remember 1997 means you and I will likely not see eye-to-eye on this. And whilst I started my response with a comment about your poor (hah) choice of terminology, the bulk of my response addresses the more substantive issue of equality of opportunities.

The solution? The Bar (meaning the Inns, chambers, the regulators, and the BPTC providers) need to change their image, and offer more support to individuals with the right stuff. The number of people I have heard in my travels saying the Bar was too stuffy, white and posh for them is alarming. I think the Bar has come a long way from the old days, but still, more can be done.


“Currently appalling access efforts”. Not true at all.


Revealed: most intelligent people in the country enter highly intellectually demanding career


Suggesting that spending three or so years at a particular institution makes you “intelligent” is a flawed argument. Intelligence is a multi-dimensional concept.

Lady Decidendi

No one is saying that Oxbridge law grads don’t deserve places in the ‘top’ chambers, indeed they’re an extremely intelligent bunch and it would be ignorant to say otherwise; the REAL problem here is that those at the ‘lesser’ universities are seen as inadequate in comparison. That simply just isn’t the case, there are non-Oxbridge law grads out there just as capable and there’s no reason they should be dismissed, when will this get through to people!

chancery tenant

Yes you are right- there are non-Oxbridge law grads who meet the mark… That is why 40% of new Pupils are non-Oxbridge.

As has been pointed out, the list compiled here has been done according to pupillage award, which is never a good indicator. Plus im not sure why loads have been missed off… Which skews it even further. Why is exchange on there with an award of £25,000? I can name a few sets with an award higher than that (e.g. 6 Pump Court, 3 Paper, Five Paper, 18SJS in Manchester) .

Also I think if one were to do a survey of Crime and Family pupils, the odds would be stacked heavily in favour of RG Unis.

x-chancery pupil

No. I didnt get taken on because I spent too much time commenting on legal cheek. Its McDonalds Apprentice Pupil now. Damn you legal cheek damn you

Grammar and Redbrick of Counsel

Don’t listen to the naysayers!

If I can make it to the Bar- anyone can!


Interesting. The next thing legalcheek should do is investigate which of these ‘top sets’ even consider applicants with 2.1 degrees. I’m not saying that they should. My point is that these sets should be more open about their preferences to save potential applicants time and energy.
For example, specifying in the selection criteria that 20 points are allocated for a first class degree, 10 points for having attended Oxbridge and 10 points for advocacy skills, motivation, temperament etc.

Future Pupil Barrister

I am aware that I may attract some negative attention for this comment but after reading a number of legal cheek articles I can no longer maintain my silence. The idea that those who didn’t go to Oxbridge face an ‘uphill battle’ is, in my opinion, significantly overstated and is consequently becoming a self perpetuating circle whereby people from ‘lower’ unis do not try for the Bar as they are lead to believe they have zero chance. I graduated from an ex-poly that has consistently lurked right at the bottom of the league tables and have subsequently secured a pupillage pre-BPTC at a very well respected set in London. Take what you will from that but it can be done.


True, but I suspect you’ve got one or a few really stellar, possibly off-the-beaten-path things on your CV that the overwhelming majority of ex-poly/plate-glass grads don’t have. A Tunde Okewale type? You wouldn’t have made it through the paper sift otherwise.


“To put this in context, consider that out of the 24,000 students who accepted an offer to study law at a higher education institute last year, only about 400 went to Oxford or Cambridge — which offered, respectively, 195 and 207 first year places.”

This seems to miss the obvious fact that not every pupil or “rookie barrister” has a law degree. If you look at the ‘heavy hitters’ such as Maitland or Enterprise then you’ll see that a significant proportion have done non-law degrees (combined with the GDL). So the statistics aren’t as damning as Alex would like them to be – Glaring Error.


“If you look at the ‘heavy hitters’ such as Maitland or Enterprise ”

Only somebody from Enterprise would write this statement.


I hired a car from them the other week, had no idea they did pupillages.


Exchange??? £25K for commercial and chancery pupillage???

Chicken feed!


Struggling to see how this is not slightly unethical in its titling. In reality, Chambers who LC have deemed to be ‘important’ for rather random reasons have these figures.


Huge difference between if it’s with going to Oxbridge or not dependent on where you want to practice and in what area ! I got. 2:1 from a ‘standard’ university and I got Pupillage last year at a well known public law set. People need to shop around and not be scared off, Oxbridge does not automatically equal success when it comes to the bar, a lot of friends went to Oxbridge and a lot of them are unemployed :/


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