Number of ‘privileged’ solicitors remains high

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By Rhys Duncan on

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But significant progress in other areas, says regulator


The number of lawyers from “privileged” backgrounds remains high, a new report by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has found — but progress to make the profession more diverse is being made.

The study, which documents the proportion of, amongst other things, women in law firms, Black, Asian or minority ethnic origin lawyers, and lawyers from privileged backgrounds, surveyed 9,276 firms and over 200,000 people.

To be considered as having a privileged background, lawyers must either have parents from a “professional” background, or have attended a fee paying school. The proportion of those coming within the former category has fallen from 60% to 57% since 2019. As for those who attended fee paying schools, the percentage has dropped from 23 to 21 in the last eight years.

The distribution of these lawyers is, however, uneven. The largest firms have a significantly higher proportion of ‘privileged’ lawyers, with an average of 65% having professional backgrounds in the family, and 28% attending a fee paying school.

Elsewhere, the report details a small increase in the number of women within the legal world, up 1% since 2021 to a new high of 53%. In that same time, the number of female partners has risen 2% to reach another fresh high of 37%.

The study also noted a rise in lawyers of Black, Asian or minority ethnic origin. This group now make up 19% of lawyers, up from 14% in 2015. At partnership level this number is sits at 17%, although in firms with more than 50 partners there is a significant drop down to only 8%.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive said in response to the report:

“A diverse and inclusive legal profession which reflects the wider community is not only good for the public, but good for legal businesses themselves. It benefits everyone to have the most talented people from all backgrounds able to work and progress in the legal sector. Things are slowly improving, but there is still more to do.”

14 Comments

From the forgotten north

Considering the proportion of the UK that is black, Asian, or minority ethnic origin is 18%, I’d say that 19% of lawyers also being BAME is about right for representing the community, no?

Fee paying schools v state school proportion is a much bigger issue in terms of community representation.

Anonymous

You’re asking the elite which is setting these ridiculous targets to supplant itself. Nobody has the best interests of the truly underrepresented in mind, and these BAME targets exist only as a token measure to push through more privileged oxon/cantab/lse which tick a few false oppression boxes. Don’t expect this twisted system to have any incentive to alter itself.

Sorry for the rant

This is no dig at you (or anyone) but this is why the phrase “BAME” is unhelpful when talking statistics – yes, the proportion of the UK that is black, Asian, or minority ethnic origin is 18%. When you break it down further though, the proportion of the UK that is black is 4% but only 3% of reported solicitors are black. It sounds like I’m being very pernickety because it’s only 1% but 1% here is the difference about c. 2,000 solicitors.

The point in this long reply (which I probably wouldn’t read myself tbh) is that there are still steps to be taken for ethnic diversity (I’m not even going to bother talking about inclusion and equity). That’s not to say that you don’t have a point – fee paying schools v state schools is also an issue that needs attention. But what’s stopping us from giving attention to both?

Little

I was pleasantly surprised at a recent moot at Landmark Chambers that the proportion of BAME students was probably 50/50. Very high.

Anonymous

Why is education a ‘representation’ issue? No one would suggest that those who can’t read and write need to represented in the cohort of solicitors.

As for private education- the real question is why does private education produce such good results. One reason is undoubtedly selection – many of these children would have achieved as well anywhere.

Rich kids in state schools tend to well too – and then we risk them getting rhe ‘state’ bonus. It would be terrible if parents were able to spend £2m getting a house in the right catchment zone and then complain about how private school kids need bringing down.

Anon 101

Why does private education produce such good results? Here are a few of the actual reasons: i) Parents of children in private education are probably (not always) well-educated themselves, and so they’re better able to support their children; ii) Parents of children in private education probably (not always) have greater resources to better support their children; iii) Children in private schools have access to the best (comparatively) resources; iv) Children in private schools are taught by (arguably) much higher caliber teachers.

Many do achieve well elsewhere, usually in grammar schools. Those who go to non-selective/comprehensive schools have a steep hill to climb. Here’s one example for you – I undertook a Freshfields vacation scheme in 2009 and a lawyer suggested I might not settle in that well because my hobbies didn’t include skiing. Other examples include education being compromised by an endless array of supply teachers and disruptive students. Private tutoring? Not an option. The list goes on.

Why is education a representation issue? It’s a matter of being able to provide a different perspective – important in many industries, politics being a prime example.

It’s not about those who are manipulating the system or bringing private-schooled kids down. It’s about helping those from less privileged backgrounds.

Supporting those from less privileged backgrounds to access this profession is unlikely to compromise your private education so I wouldn’t panic to much…

Anon MC associate

I’m from an underprivileged background. I grew up in poverty my whole life and at many times ate food from the bins for sustenance. These initiatives at first were really good, but sometimes I feel like they want certain disadvantaged communities to be overrepresented in certain roles. I understand contextualised circumstances but sometimes the threshold is far too low and it’s making incompetent professionals. Not everyone is destined to be a lawyer, doctor etc. I met and surpassed the normal entry requirements for my Oxford offer and I basically lived in the gutters. I think we’ve got to stop feeling sorry for people and start putting academics first. We live in the UK where education is free, and there is no excuse for messing up. After all we make choices. Give a kid from the African or Asian opportunity this academic system and they would kill it without a second thought about their ‘poor’ background. We don’t need over representation, we just need opportunity

Sal

Stop lying. You didn’t “eat out of bins for sustenance”. What a load of rubbish. I am a poor son of immigrants and grew up on welfare benefits – no one eats out of bins unless they’re homeless or suffering some mental illness. Even then, they have the provision for hot and nutritious food every night at multiple homeless shelters or institutions if they want.

MC

I agree representation policies can have negative effects on quality, but the legal profession it is more about trading a mediocre kid from Harrow who likes to Ski with an average kid from a comp who talks about the football.

It should be obvious, but the primary benefit of representation is to create an environment that increases the probability that those from underprivileged communities receive opportunities. Granted, this is an amorphous metric to measure and in my experience those who succeed and are from underprivileged backgrounds have an abundance of ability and to not let them progress would be to be blatantly classist.

The real issue is, and I think is what you’re getting at, is that these policies are about a battle for mediocrity. They benefit those who are, effectively, average irrespective of their background. There are lots of average performing state and privately educated members of the profession.

Not every solicitor needs to be great. The issue at present is too many average middle class members and creating an alienating culture. A hammer to crack a nut, however, springs to mind when some of these reports come out…

Anon

Whilst I empathise with your position and having to face a barrier most in this profession don’t – that being a childhood in poverty – I don’t think for a second that it’s right to say there’s no excuse at all for not getting stellar grades. I, for one, spent most of my childhood as a carer for my Mother, whilst my father and siblings were away, living in 13 places, being in a car crash during my GCSE’s, losing half my family during my LLB, not having disability adjustments implemented, and so the bad luck seems to have gone on. The point is that whilst I managed to get good grades (2:1 RG LLB, Distinction on my LLM (Bar)), they’re still not as good as top Chambers expect and I imagine top US/MC firms would take a similar view. Sure, there are things I could have done differently, but to say – in effect – that not getting a 1st on the LLB is my own doing couldn’t be further from the truth.

I have already had rejections based on not having a first or not being an Oxbridge grad, but there’s more to it than purely grades. Many Oxbridge grads with 1st’s wouldn’t get the grades I got in my position, but that isn’t given a moments thought during recruitment drives. The point is that whilst I’m sure you’ve had very difficult moments throughout your childhood, to then act as the arbiter of who’s destined to become a lawyer and simply say that it should be all about academics is rather ignorant to say the least. Many people get all A/A* grades and never have the option to go to Oxbridge, many people have the potential to get stellar grades but live in environments which make it impossible to show their full potential, and many people still face blatant discrimination because of their background and characteristics. Certainly, some of these initiatives go too far the other way (for example, hiring only BAME people or only LGBT people is ridiculous for a multitude of reasons), but all in all, accepting that it’s about more than just grades and giving people the chance to show what they’re capable of is most definitely a good thing for the profession.

Anonymous

The selection at most private schools (with some exceptions) is whether your parents can afford the ridiculous fees – not any sort of academic merit.

Private schools work because they have a low enough teacher to pupil ratio that even kids who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic can be spoon fed through GCSEs and A-Levels and that’s what the parents pay for.

Alex

The educational literature doesn’t support the idea that class sizes are a determining factor. Much more important is the quality of the teacher and parental support.

Sal

Actually it’s the atmosphere of the surroundings and absence of bad elements and harmful distractions that is the biggest benefit.

Rolo

Give it a lick of paint it’ll seem new is the approach these days unfortunately. Go jump in a pond and eat a frog.

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