20 Essex Street embraces contextual recruitment in bid to find pupil barristers from more diverse backgrounds

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Popular City law hiring process reaches the bar

Commercial chambers 20 Essex Street has adopted a recruitment system popular among City law firms in an effort to attract more wannabe barristers to the bar from non-traditional and more socially diverse backgrounds.

The contextual recruitment system, run by London-based diversity agency Rare, pulls data from two databases (school/college results and UK postcodes) and combines this information to place candidates’ accomplishments in context. A number of big City players including Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance already use the software. However, 20 Essex Street claims to be the first chambers to do so.

The bar has long grappled with the issue of diversity. Research published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) earlier this year found that 12% of barristers went to private schools — almost double that of the United Kingdom (UK) population as a whole. However, it’s worth noting that the response rate to this question was 37%, meaning the percentage of privately-educated barristers could be much higher.

The 2019 Chambers Most List

Commenting on the new recruitment process, Michael Coburn QC, head of Pupillage at 20 Essex Street, said:

“We are delighted to be using Rare’s contextual recruitment system in our selection process at 20 Essex Street. We are committed to improving access to the bar. Our aim is to recruit candidates of the highest standard by giving fair and equal opportunity to everyone. We believe the CRS will be invaluable in helping us achieve these objectives. Its technology and data will allow us to put a candidate’s achievements into their wider context, so that we can identify real talent that might otherwise have been overlooked.”

Legal Cheek’s Chambers Most List shows that 20 Essex Street, which specialises in shipping and commodities work, takes on three pupils each year, and offers a pupillage award of £65,000. Two of its five most junior members of chambers attended Oxbridge, excluding postgraduate studies.

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“Two of its five most junior members of chambers attended Oxbridge, excluding postgraduate studies.” How refreshing to read this. It is of course right that you are only Oxbridge if you went to Oxford or Cambridge as an undergraduate.


Truth Serum

1 is a Kiwi and went to Auckland before Oxbridge. 1 is a rising Aussie academic at KCL and went to Yale after studying in Oz. So of the 3 actual Brits on offer, 1 went to UCL and smashed a first whilst the other 2 are Oxbridge.

Just to add, i don’t think that academic elitism is a bad thing at the bar. So running away from Oxbridge like its such a bad thing is no good. Lets just be honest about things.



If you choose only to hire men then it is discrimination. Yet if you choose to only have sex with women that is somehow fine? Such double standards in our horrible society.



Are you one of those extreme leftists who thinks that a person who is solely heterosexual or homosexual is discriminatory and that you/society should actually have some say in who someone ought to want to have sex with?

Like the transwomen who accuse lesbians of being transphobic because they do not want to have sex with “women” who have a penis (ie a man in disguise)?



I was told by international students that Rare’s system only covers the UK. You could have been educated in Siberian slums and it wouldn’t contextualise that.



Let’s not forget also the super-rich Chinese who have been in the U.K. for the best part of 5 mins who get ethnicity points while Johnny Northerner from Newcastle is rejected before interview for his “privilege”.



Rare focuses more on putting the students’ academic results into context, not just giving out “ethnicity points”. The problem is that it will not contextualise results of underprivileged foreign students, just like it will not contextualise the results of the “super-rich” foreigners. It’s a system that is currently unfit for purpose.



Well fine but do they realise nobody cares about that virtue signalling? Least of all the clients.



A lot of these systems focus overly on ethnicity and ignore socio-economic status – working class British boys etc. are particularly hard done by.



I assume you mean working class British white boys, no?



They still have WP, regardless of income background, though.


Steven Seagull

Given that only around 12% of the country is non-white, most of the British working class boys would by definition be white.

What is your point, exactly?



Even judgements about people based on whether they went to private or state schools ignore socioeconomic status – most pupils in private schools are not from the top socioeconomic quintile and a third of them are from the middle and bottom two quintiles.



Rubbish. Your schooling is a key to your socio-economic status. You’re not really middle class (or better) unless you go to a private school. State schools are the essential preserve of the lower classes.



That explains why the Tatler, essential reading for every lower class person , runs a guide to the best state schools every year. Thanks for clarifying that.



The best state school guide, which no Tatler buyer ever reads, is produced by Tatler as a long-running joke.


It is only ‘key to your socioeconomic status’ if that is how you define socioeconomic status.

Since it would take a very superficial level of understanding to do that in practice income, educational attainment, occupation or postcode are used instead.






What a load of virtue-signalling piffle. Why on earth should recruitment care about diversity when its only duty should be to find men and women who add the most value to a firm or chambers?



Quite: diversity might be the result, but it should not be the aim of a recruitment process. Merit should be the only criterion: i.e., who is the best candidate to suit the needs of clients? And all clients care about is technical excellence and a certain social confidence and sophistication – which effectively rules out candidates who are non-Oxbridge and from state schools.



Oxbridge and privately educated lawyers are anti-social and arrogant f*cks who I wouldn’t even put in front of my wacky grandma.



Does your wacky granny expect to be taking part in any 8 figure commercial litigation any time soon?



No, and the point is that if I wouldn’t put them anywhere near my wacky grandma (who, unsurprisingly, is not going to be taking part in any 8 figure commercial litigation), then I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting them near my clients (who, of course, by definition of being my clients are likely to be taking part in 8 figure commercial litigation).


Hint: perhaps the sort of people who engage in 8-figure litigation might get on with a different sort of person then who your wacky granny gets on with.
Perhaps what your wacky granny likes is no basis for making judgements on anything whatsoever!





This kind of merit argument keeps on coming up repeatedly, to the point where it’s become quite insidious.

The point of diversity schemes and contextual recruitment is not to employ so called diverse candidates (for want of a better phrase) who don’t have the qualifications and ability for the job. Rather, the objective and impact of these initiatives is to recruit diverse candidates who do have the qualifications and ability for the job (or even exceed the requirements), but who would otherwise be barred because of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism etc. in the recruitment process.

People need to stop traipsing out this “oh it’s only supposed to be about merit” argument as it spectacularly misses the point. Diverse representation and merit are not mutually exclusive. And quite frankly, part of the reason why contextual recruitment is sorely needed is because meritocracy isn’t regularly followed in practice.



Let’s face it, a system which was predominantly run by white men created the modern civilised world as we know it, with all its culture and values and social and political institutions. Why should it be seen as a virtue for this to be diluted by people (women and PoCs) who are merely riding on the coat tails of others.



Thoughtcrime level is off the charts on this one


Be specific. Which coat tails are women and people of colour riding on?


“Rather, the objective and impact of these initiatives is to recruit diverse candidates who do have the qualifications and ability for the job (or even exceed the requirements), but who would otherwise be barred because of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism etc. in the recruitment process.”

As if you really believe that.

It’s a political agenda to remove from positions of influence, and demoralise, precisely the kind of people who might otherwise begin to hold the current corrupt establishment to account.

Love the way you throw “classism” in though like throwing a dog a bone – but after all this time in power you have done NOTHING to be fair to ordinary working people and that is going to come and bite you in the ass.



Which kind of people who “hold the current corrupt establishment to account” does contextual recruitment disadvantage exactly? And exactly what do you mean by “ordinary working people”?


In a nutshell, this:



Reported for hate speech.



Not this tripe again. 15% of sixth form pupils attend private schools, therefore at 12% privately educated people are underrepresented amongst barristers.



Sounds suspiciously like a load of old bollocks that will be completely debunked within about 3 years.



Not without wrecking a few lives in the process.

Mainly those of working class young men from outside London.

The posh white girls will be alright though.


Tired Brother

The biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women, and of course the rich one’s have done best out of things. But they will not hesitate to complain to everyone that can listen about sexism, and how 5 years ago one guy told them to get the team and that was such a typical comment back then…..The other year we had Dinah Rose crying to us mere mortals that she was discriminated against because the rich boys didn’t let her into their rich club, and how we should all care about that and fight her battle with her. Such crap.



It’s absolutely refreshing to read the comments and see that the “waking up” process is well underway.

The people who are peddling this stuff do not have our country’s best interests at heart.

Listen – let’s all take note and get ourselves educated, strong and successful because we will need people ready to take up leadership roles once society has been put back on a more normal footing.



Is this the same Dinah Rose to whom you refer:

“Rose was educated at City of London School for Girls and at Magdalen College, Oxford.[1] She was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1989[3] and took silk in 2006.[3] In a July 2009 interview with The Lawyer, she referred to Lord Lester, QC as a “mentor” and described Lord Pannick QC as a “huge influence”.[4]” (Wikipedia)

Such hardship.



And is that the same Lester against whom the following has been alleged in the sexual harassment matter: “He [Lester] also allegedly “made reference to the colour of the carpet” and said “that only members of the House of Lords are allowed to walk on the red carpet and the ‘commoners’ were to walk on the blue carpet”.”

It doesn’t sound like it would be easy for a young Brit from an ordinary working family to find such mentorship forthcoming from Lester.

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