Law firms dominate social mobility employer list

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Top ten spots for BCLP, Browne Jacobson, HSF and Bakers

A number of corporate law firms have been recognised for their efforts to improve social mobility in the workplace.

The Social Mobility Foundation today announced its top 75 UK employers for social mobility, and over one third of the entries are law firms.

Employers on the list, which is now in its fourth year, are ranked based on the action they take to ensure they are open to and progressing talent from all backgrounds.

The highest ranking law firm in this year’s list was Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, in fourth place, followed by Browne Jacobson and Herbert Smith Freehills in fifth and seventh spot, respectively. Baker Mckenzie rounded off the top ten.

There were also top 20 spots for magic circle duo Linklaters (11th) and Freshfields (19th), as well as Hogan Lovells in 20th position.

Other law firms commended for their efforts to improve social mobility include: Brodies (24th), Slaughter and May (25th), Allen & Overy (28th), Pinsent Masons (30th), RPC (35th), Shoosmiths (38th), Burges Salmon (39th), DWF (40th), CMS (41st), Squire Patton Boggs (46th), Freeths (51st), Shepherd and Wedderburn (52nd), Simmons & Simmons (57th), Lewis Silkin (59th), Radcliffe Chambers (61st), Mayer Brown (66th), Macfarlanes (67th), TLT (68th), Charles Russell Speechlys (72nd).

Other legal entities to feature on the 2020 power list include the Ministry of Justice in sixth spot, the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in 53rd place, and the Crown Prosecution Service in 55th place. Big Four accountancy giant PwC took this year’s top spot.

The 2021 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

This year saw 119 employers from 17 sectors, who collectively employ almost one million people, enter the index which assesses employers across seven key areas including: outreach, recruitment, selection, progression and data collection processes. Employers are benchmarked based on the results of both employer and employee surveys.

Sarah Atkinson, chief-executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

“Congratulations to all the businesses who submitted this year amidst challenging circumstances. Now more than ever, business must commit to supporting opportunities for young people. We urge those sectors not represented in this year’s index to make a public commitment to supporting social mobility in 2021 by joining the ranks of those employers who are already making such a difference to young people’s life chances.”

The legal sector’s strong showing is consistent with previous years. Interestingly, it was found, as part of a supplementary report, that 84% of law firm trainee intakes were from Russell Group universities, despite only 66% of applicants coming from those institutions.

This comes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) released the findings of its biannual collection of diversity data. Privately-educated lawyers continue to dominate corporate law firms, the SRA data shows, with three times as many lawyers (21%) having attended fee-paying schools than the national UK average (7%).

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Surprised that only one set of chambers on the list (Radcliffe).


A barrister

Most sets of chambers are committed to social mobility and social inclusion. If you ask them, you will find that they are likely to have various initiatives and committees to achieve those ends, in addition to the work that individual members do outside their chambers either individually or as part of a professional body. For example, there are mentoring schemes for students from underrepresented backgrounds run by the Inns, by COMBAR and ChBA, and some individual chambers.

The reason that there is only one set of chambers that is ranked is most likely because there was only one set of chambers that made a submission. Barristers’ chambers are not law firms and do not have the infrastructure, or usually the desire, to seek out public recognition of their work through legal rankings, except to the extent that the market for legal services forces them to do so – as, regrettably, occurs with the ranking of barristers by specialism. So, well done to Radcliffe, but it is best not to confuse the lack of recognition of other sets as indicating that Radcliffe are the most diverse or most committed to social inclusion, or that other sets are not doing as much or more.


The Social Mobility Foundation

Hello. You’re right to say that chambers could get more recognition if they are already doing social mobility work. A piece from the Social Mobility Foundation, which urges more chambers to sign up, will be published on The Bar Council blog this week. The Index is free and, depending on the existing data organisations have, is straightforward to enter.



Any particular reason why the US firms don’t get a mention?


Kirkland NQ

Probably because social mobility at the ‘land is moving from a year old Gallardo to a new one.



Slightly ridiculous. Arguably there is a lot more social mobility to be achieved from a less well-off background going to work at the ‘land, STB, Milbank or similar – than Freeths LLP.



Q) Why no US firms on the list?

A) Because they could not give a shit. Not known for having much of a social conscience or for being diverse.



Not really true – they attract hungrier types. Far more “old boy” types in the magic circle, despite the marketing to have you think otherwise.


Does one get points for a staff member from one of less fashionable Oxbridge colleges?



Any idea how much does a newly pinted partner make at a MC firm? Also, how much does a fresh junior partner make at a US firm like Kirkland where associates with 6PQE are promoted to partner?


Fresher Test

At a US firm, about $8m. At a MC firm about £4m



A little realistic figure plz!



Dentons no where to be seen.



Looks like all that virtue signalling paid off!



This is a step in the right direction.


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