Privately-educated lawyers more likely to earn higher salaries

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By Katie King on

And by some margin

New data has shown the firms that pay the highest salaries are also the firms with the most private school kids. And we’re not talking discrepancies of just a few hundred or even a few thousand pounds.

The average newly qualified (NQ) salary at a firm with 0-19% state school-educated trainees is more than £100,000. However, at firms where 80-100% of trainees are from free schools, average NQ wage is less than £50,000. Chambers Student, which produced the research, starkly describes this as “a direct relationship between private education and high earnings, and state education and lower earnings”.

Image credit: Chambers Student

This difference in earning power pervades NQ money. The research states: “Privately educated lawyers are more likely to earn higher salaries, and this difference will only become more pronounced as the lawyers progress to partnership, when partner earnings at top City firms might outstrip those at regional firms many times over.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of social mobility charity the Sutton Trust told Legal Cheek:

“We’ve known for a while that the legal sector has a social mobility problem – our own research has highlighted how the alumni of private schools are overrepresented at the very top of the profession. These new figures confirm our findings. It is especially worrying that these alumni are likely to benefit from a significant pay premium too.”

The research also shows that in 2017 about 51% of trainees joining the 59 firms surveyed were state schooled. The most independent school-heavy trainee cohorts were from magic circle and other City firms: about 40% are state educated.

With only 7% of the general population attending a fee-paying school, the overrepresentation is stark. However, as Legal Cheek‘s commenters have pointed out, law tends to be a graduate-heavy job, so perhaps a better comparison to make is between lawyers and graduates, instead of lawyers and the general population.

Image credit: Chambers Student

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) show that, of the students that enrolled in 2016/17, 1,062,260 attended a state school compared to 109,595 from a privately-funded school. Excluding unknown and non-applicable schools, that means 91% are stated educated, versus 9% who aren’t.

Even at top universities, the percentage of private school students doesn’t come close to the percentage of private school trainees. For Russell Group students, about 70% are state educated, while at Oxbridge this figure is just shy of 60%.

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Since the turn of the year, a raft of data about the legal profession’s social mobility problem has come to the fore.

Just yesterday, we reported on new statistics from the regulator which show 22% of lawyers attended fee-paying schools. The data show firms which mainly do corporate work have the lowest proportion of state-educated solicitors, 56%. By contrast, 76% of lawyers in firms that mainly do litigation work are from state schools, while this figure’s 77% for mainly-criminal outfits.

And, not long before then, new diversity stats from the bar showed 12% of barristers attended an independent school. However, the response rate to this question was extremely low (37%), meaning the percentage of privately-educated barristers is likely to be higher.

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