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Over half of City law firm partners went to private school

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Solicitors from lower socio-economic backgrounds take around 18 months longer to make partner, major report focusing on 10 top outfits finds

More than half of City law firm partners went to private school, a new social mobility report has found.

Commissioned by and analysing ten top law firms in London, the study found that partnerships at the participating firms are “deeply lacking in diversity and most acutely by socio-economic background”, with 53% having attended a private school. The figure is only marginally lower (46%) among associates.

This is significantly higher than the figure released this year by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which found that 32% of partners at large corporate firms were educated privately.

The research was conducted by consultancy the Bridge Group in collaboration with Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Slaughter and May and Towerhouse, a comparatively smaller firm that acts for regulated industries. It analysed quantitative and qualitative data from more than 60 hours of interviews across the firms.

The proportion of partners who attended private school varies across the firms taking part in the research, from 39% to 55%; and varies by practice area, with finance (50%) and global regulatory (57%) being the highest.

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The research explores how socio-economic background affects progression to partner, with “an important contributing factor to the acute lack of socio-economic diversity among law firm partners” being that white males “dominate”. Forty-eight percent of partners are white male, the statistics show, and 52% of these white males attended a fee-paying school.

Senior associates from lower socio-economic backgrounds take a year and a half longer on average to reach partner than “the dominant group” (white males from higher socio-economic backgrounds), while women take nearly a year longer to make partner than men.

Further, those who identify as white progress to partner nearly two years more quickly compared with those from other ethnic groups.

Commenting on today’s findings, Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, said: “To see firms collaborating on research of this kind, sharing resource and data to get to the heart of the issue is a good sign, as only by working together as a profession will we really be able to make a difference.”

He added: “Many law firms are doing great things and have made good progress, more can and will be done.”

The report demands an “urgent” response from the legal sector, and offers a series of recommendations, including making the criteria for progression to partner more transparent and ensuring that all firms have robust measures in place for collecting and understanding data relating to socio-economic diversity and inclusion.

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31 Comments

Anon

Amused at the massive PR drive. Nearly everyone canned at my firm (on the above list) was BAME in the most recent round. Some of them were hardworking, excellent trainees.

Anon

I was told by a recruiter that he felt there was a very high proportion of female and BAME employees canned in the credit crunch. Shame if nothing appears to have changed

Don't pass the Koolaid

Yes, we all believe what recruiters say.

Anon

Very worrying that 47% of partners are semi-literate at best.

John Jonah Jameson Jr.

“Almost half of City law firms partners went to state school”

Yeah but no but

The point might be that only 7% of students are privately educated but occupy half.

It will continue to be the case until we invest in state schools that they are as competitive and excellent in what they deliver.

Rupert Grint

Best schools create people with best careers, shock

Jane

Exactly. Our private schools are some of the best on the planet and 20% go private in the sixth form anyway , People come from all over the world for our best boarding schools. If the statistics were that those who got the worst education became top lawyers then we really would have a problem. Not surprisingly I have paid fees because I want what is best for my children. Other mothers only work part time or choose careers that pay badly so they cannot afford £10k a year average day school fees, and then their children suffer. It is their choice.

Anon

Hi. I went to a state school, got a solid rack of A*s, went to Oxford, then to the Magic Circle, then to a top 5 NY firm.

So I don’t think “we would really have a problem” if more people who don’t have rich parents end up in top high-paying jobs on merit. We worked to get to where we are, thanks.

If you go to private school and you have better grades, do better at interview and at the job, then great – you should be promoted. These firms are businesses. I actually agree with you that in general, private schools provide the best education.

If you actually read the report, the concern of the highly intelligent people at these law firms is that certain partners may still be preferring (unconsciously or otherwise) people with similar backgrounds and hobbies. They may see them as a natural fit with a team of people with the same background and overestimate their interpersonal / team working abilities.

Jarrod

This is utterly disgraceful. By extension it follows that there is ongoing discrimination against BAME associates given that private schools are less likely to be frequented by BAME students. Those firms need to take immediate and drastic action in order to right this wrong.

Bill

Curious – those who are giving comments like these thumbs down . Why are you disliking . Are you racist or don’t want change? It’s not a white boys only club anymore

Anon

Racist or reactionary, are those the only options?

What about better informed? 35% of pupils in private schools are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The percentage of privately educated lawyers is almost certainly higher than 53% in the minority ethnic subset.

L

That’s because 35% of pupils who are ethnic minorities are also international students, who often go back to their respective countries after private school education or university.

Rarely would you see a British-born BAME student going to a private school. My sister went to 3 private schools and 70% of the cohort were rich Hong Kong and Russian students who left the country after bagging a university degree.

Anon

Even if your ridiculous assumption that ‘pupils who are ethnic minorities are also international students’ were correct, which your own comment goes on to contradict – only 5% of pupils are foreign domiciled.

UK domiciled minority ethnic pupils in private schools are overrepresented at least twice compared with the general population.

Hal

What a surprise. The cleverest and best educated people land the top jobs.

Anon

Yes, because the fact Mummy and Daddy paid for your school fees makes you one of the “cleverest” people.

Confused

It’s like they think their spunk magically changes to create ‘clea-vah kids’ once they have the cash to pay school fees???!

Anon

No need to be confused. Private school kids tend to be brighter because IQ is inherited; there is a huge link between intelligence and earnings; bright and well-off people send their kids to private schools.

Anon

Best educated, yes; cleverest, no. It is genuinely harrowing to think of all the people out there who went to state school and are a million miles cleverer than those that went to private school, but simply didn’t reach the heights they should have because of the state system.

That said, it’s not just funding, there’s also a cultural element. If you’re from a working class background and your family are bricklayers, even if you have the brain of Isaac Newton, you’re probably going to end up being a bricklayer. Your dad has an apprentice job waiting for you, soon as you turn 16. Are you really going to snob that, be a ponce and head to “uni”?

Conversely, if your parents are lawyers or from some other well-educated profession, they’re much more likely to instil the value of an education in you at a young age. They know its importance first hand. As a child, how can you recognise the importance of education if your parents never have? And that’s another key difference between private and state schools – private pupils begin their educational journey from an upbringing that has prioritised the importance of education (by way of the fact that their parents are willing to pay for it).

Bill

You speak a lot of truth. One of the smartest kids I grew up with ended up rejecting the idea of going to university and helped her parents run their travelling maze of mirrors. Her job was and I think still is to wash/wipe the mirrors. Total waste. She was really fit at well and ended up shacking up with a fella who owns a waltzer. She could have done so much better.

Raymond

Proper discussion here – what Do partners in their 30s and 40s in top law firms actually make . And I’m not talking about PPE salary because not all partners are Millionaires or PPE ? What would you all say ?

Would it be around 500k in Weil or Skadden ?

T

I’d like to know the answer too actually – range of law firms would be interesting too

CMS

I am a junior partner at CMS in my 30s and I see about £225k

Anon

Why do you bother working all those years for that little?

Anon

Some of us can’t do math. If you want to make big money, study computer science or engineering and go into investment banking. Or get better parents. Sadly these are typically the only routes for great wealth these days.

Anon

It is “maths”. This is not America.

Forever Associate

Sounds about right – salary/fixed junior equity partner at many British firms in London seem to range from £145-250k, typically taking 10 years to get there. Some of them have more generous bonus packages then others, but typically capped at nothing more than an additional £50k.

A lot of LC readers don’t seem to get those £400-600k pep numbers seen within the top 20 British firms usually takes 20+ years to reach in the lockstep system. Even then it’s not guaranteed. There are many international firm partners, including silver circle firm partners, which never see more than £350-400k p/a which is still objectively a great whack of money. There are obviously exceptions but those are just that.

Rich dad poor dad

As a partner, you’re a self-employed income earner paying high taxes, so you’ll never get rich. You need to be on the rich dad side of the quadrant, building businesses and owning real estate so you pay no taxes and build assets of significant value. That’s the momentum of money. See they don’t teach you this in school.

Anon

Using private schools as a proxy for socioeconomic advantage is a piece of social warrior nonsense – for a start most pupils in private schools are not from the top socioeconomic quintile while 40% of families with incomes in excess of £300 k pa use state schools.

If socioeconomic advantage is of interest then look at that directly FFS.

When you do that you will find little or no difference in socioeconomic status between privately and state educated lawyers in top firms.

(My previous attempt to point out that socioeconomic status and intelligence correlate positively – for which every piece of peer-reviewed educational research statistically corrects – was not printed.)

Anon

Would agree with your first point, to an extent. It is actually socio-economic advantage they should be analysing.

I think the problem being considered is not intelligence, however. I have worked in numerous law firms and intelligence gets you through the gates. Subjective assessment of soft skills then becomes highly important. And the concern at the law firms themselves is that this might be coloured with bias and at the point of promotion the best lawyer might get overlooked in favour of those who find more common ground with the partners.

For example, the report states: “a significant proportion of senior associates and partners highlighted the customary practice of recruiting and promoting in one’s image.“.

Unless you intend to claim white males are inherently more intelligent than white women and ethnic minorities, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on why they take longer to progress to partnership.

Anon

A number of factors, self-efficacy, behaviour, personality, and well-being collectively contribute to the heritability of educational attainment as much as intelligence, and they are all associated with socioeconomic status. So as you say intelligence is only part of the picture. Although I know of no evidence to support this view, it seems reasonable to expect that these other factors also contribute to success in the workplace after the end of formal education.

Childbirth explains the slower career progression of women in general and presumably in law. What was the proportion of women in the ethnic minority lawyers sampled?

As for promoting in one’s image, if one’s image happens to be privately educated white male that’s probably not a bad idea considering the discrimination they have to overcome – for example the university’s ‘contextual’ admission system has ensured that by a long way now they are the highest performing group at Cambridge University.

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