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Are legal jobs in the UK becoming more diverse?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/12/12

The perception of top UK legal jobs being solely occupied by brandy-swilling, Aryan men with cut-glass vowels and a lineage stretching back to Edward the Confessor could be set to change as more law firms attempt to increase their diversity and encourage people from disparate backgrounds to get involved in the legal world.

Speaking to the Birmingham Post, DLA Piper group head for employment, pensions and benefits Sandra Wallace suggested that, while there are still barriers facing less-advantaged people aiming for legal careers, the situation has improved in recent years.

"It is easier in the sense law firms are more alive to the benefits of a diverse workforce and recruiting people from ethnic minorities and poorer backgrounds. But if the money is not there it can be quite daunting," said Ms Wallace.

The first member of her family to attend university, the lawyer rose through the ranks after obtaining articles at Needham & James, which later merged with DLA Piper.

She suggested that her relatively modest background left her uncertain of her own abilities initially in her career.

"I didn’t think I was good enough to be a lawyer, or clever enough. I assumed that was not my world," Ms Wallace admitted.

This mindset needs to be challenged if diversity is to increase in law firms, with the DLA Piper chief suggesting more could be done to encourage children not to view the legal world as an exclusive club only welcoming to people with double-barrelled names and no chin.

She praised law firms for offering support to people from disadvantaged background from an early age, with school-leavers sometimes snapped up by firms that offer them a stipend to study law over the coming years.
While the financial investment involved in entering a legal career may still be daunting for those without a trust fund to support them, Ms Wallace argued that ensuring positive role models are available to young people considering a career in the law is also crucial.

The Black Solicitors' Network recently named the most diverse law firms in the UK, with Shoosmiths topping the table for the second consecutive year with a score of 896 from a possible 1,000.
A total of 50 firms took part in the research, which allocated points based on demographics, policy and practice.

Watford-based Matthew Arnold & Baldwin ranked second in the annual survey, followed by Baker & McKenzie and Norton Rose.