‘Introduce quotas for state school educated barristers and judges,’ suggests Guardian journalist

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By Katie King on

Ellie Mae O’Hagan tells Legal Cheek she hopes column will help ‘address the problem of elitism’

An influential journalist has proposed radical action on social mobility in the legal profession, stating: “Quotas might seem like a desperate measure, but these are desperate times.”

Writing in The Guardian, Ellie Mae O’Hagan fumes that “so many members of our ruling elite have been picked from a tiny class of privileged individuals” — a statement that’s hard to deny in the law profession context.

Data from last year reveals 74% of judges and 71% of barristers are privately educated, which is pretty mental considering just 7% of the population went to an independent school. The stats, screenshotted below, also show 51% of solicitors attended a fee-paying school.


So, what to do about it? O’Hagan says:

Instead of collectively rolling our eyes every time a new report on these statistics comes out, let’s introduce quotas. If 7% of the population goes to private school, then it seems only fair that 7% of Britain’s elite jobs should go to privately educated individuals. This would include chief executives, barristers, journalists, judges, medical professionals and MPs.

O’Hagan admits this action is drastic, but: “if you’re worried about hundreds of state-educated people suddenly taking up elite roles, just ask yourself: can they really do a worse job than the people in charge now?”

The social media reaction to O’Hagan’s piece has been at best mixed. Though law graduate and journalist Robert Verkaik said the article was “brave” and “well argued”, others weren’t quite so complimentary:

Others have used O’Hagan’s piece as fuel for their anti-Guardian fire:

Eyebrow raises about the notably left-wing newspaper’s staff diversity is long-standing. In 2016, The Spectator published an article called: ‘If the Guardian dislikes privately educated Oxbridge types, why does it hire so many?’

However, O’Hagan seems far from fazed by these Guardian-directed comments. Speaking to Legal Cheek this morning, she said:

If the best argument that people can come up with is pointing out that there are lot of privately educated journalists, I think they’re making my argument for me. It’s good that the Guardian was willing to give me a platform to start this debate and I hope it will lead to a fruitful conversation about how we can address the problem of elitism in this country.

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