Is ‘Doxbridge’ a thing?

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By Katie King on

Supreme Court now has more Durham grads than any other non-Oxbridge uni

Diversity in the Supreme Court is all people want to talk about right now.

With Lady Hale’s elevation to the head judge role and Lady Justice Black’s appointment to justice stardom, the bench is now the most gender diverse it has ever been.

But one area of judicial diversity that is often overlooked is university attended. Oxbridge domination is rife: stats from last year show 74% of top judges attended either Oxford or Cambridge, as did 78% of QCs.

The Supreme Court is an Oxbridge-heavy bench. However, with Black’s appointment Durham is now the third most represented university (tied with Edinburgh, or not if you are looking at English judges).

The term ‘Doxbridge’ has been floating around for some years now (its Urban Dictionary entry dates back to 2009), and we can see why: there are some undeniable similarities between the trio. The Durham collegiate system certainly has an Oxford and Cambridge ring to it, as does its historic, cathedral architecture.

And a law degree from Durham is similarly prestigious. It consistently ranks highly in university league tables, its building was once crowned the ‘most impressive law school building in the world’, and its academic fame has been taken up a notch thanks to new head Thom Brooks (who has become an authoritative and well-known Brexit commentator). One student tells Legal Cheek:

Durham seems to be highly respected. When I tell people I go there, I always get the ‘oooooh you must be smart then’.

And it appears to have the rah-factor (sorry). Durham is nestled between Oxford and Cambridge in terms of its public school uptake: 61% of its students are from state schools, compared to 56% at Oxford and 62% at Cambridge.

A combo of all these factors, and more, led commenters on a recent Legal Cheek article about LLB university choices to declare Doxbridge the new Oxbridge. “Durham, part of that elite trio of unis, Doxbridge, is the perfect choice”, one commenter noted. Another said: “Durham is at the top with Oxford and Cambridge”, while one reader went for: “Aside from Oxbridge, Durham vastly outstrips every other uni in terms of its representation in City law firms”. But does it?

According to interesting research by Chambers Student, after Oxbridge Durham is the most represented undergraduate university in magic circle trainee cohorts and the cohorts of “other large London” firms. It’s also the third most frequently occurring university in “all London firms” and in “medium to small London firms”.

Infographic via Chambers Student

Stepping away from London-headquartered outfits, Durham again comes in third when we consider US firms in the capital. As for “all national and regional firms”, Durham comes in second place just behind Manchester, beating Oxbridge by some margin.

We’re impressed. But now it’s time for some scepticism.

For starters, it is worth noting at this point Durham is one of the biggest Russell Group law schools and, therefore, churns out a higher number of grads than many of its rivals. Three-hundred-and-ten people accepted places to study law at Durham last year, compared to 235 at Oxford and 215 at Cambridge. This makes Durham one of the biggest Russell Group law schools (though the likes of Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool are bigger).

Further, when you move away from the narrow focus that is law firm trainee cohorts, Durham’s shine dims — a bit. Research shows Durham plays a healthy, but not dominatory, role in the make up of magic circle and silver circle firm partners. Twenty-four percent of these partners hail from Oxford and 20% from Cambridge. Third place is Bristol (14%), and in joint fourth there’s Nottingham, King’s and Durham on 10% each.

Infographic via Laurence Simons

And then we turn to the bar, where, frankly, the Doxbridge fanfare falls silent.

Though Durham’s website states “many of our graduates are called to the bar and become established barristers at both London-based and regional chambers,” the Legal Cheek Most List shows new tenants at the country’s top 50 chambers are disproportionately, and I mean massively disproportionately, Oxford or Cambridge grads.

For three chambers, five out of five of their newest barristers are Oxbridge educated, while four out of five new tenants went to Oxbridge at 12 sets. It’s three out of five at 20 sets, two out of five at 11, and one out of five at three. And a scan of the non-Oxbridge new tenants doesn’t fill us with Doxbridge confidence either: we stumbled across just as many Durham grads as we did the rest of the Russell Group lot, and a fair few non-Russell Groupers too.

So, while Durham certainly has a foothold in the law firm trainee market, Doxbridge does not seem to be a profession-wide thing. “Durham is not ‘at the top’ — it’s a good RG university, not on a par with Oxbridge,” one of our commenters concludes. “It’s on a par with Bristol, Warwick, QMUL, KCL, Sheffield and other universities in the RG.” With this we are inclined to agree.

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