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Does the legal sector have a social mobility problem?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 09/09/15

It has long been commented that, usually at entry level, the legal sector can struggle with a social mobility problem. The general feeling is that firms may be – often inadvertently – favouring polish over potential.

So what can be done? It is argued that more contexts must be taken into account when making new hires at these levels. Consequently, it’s good to see that some of the top firms in the UK are now opting for a dedicated context-based recruitment model when assessing graduates. First of all, the candidate’s postcode should be assessed, along with the exam results of 3,500 school and sixth form colleges. In this way, four As at A level would immediately be regarded as more impressive if they were attained at a tough comprehensive school, or one with a lower grade average.

Linklaters  is one firm which has been praised by the UK government as a social mobility “champion” and is one of the very few that publishes its social mobility employee data. So far in 2015, only 23% of partners, 24% of associates and 21% of junior associates attended a UK fee-paying school.

But why does this remain such a big issue? In the past, the term “diversity” could often be batted around as a sort of tick-box suggestion. However, in the last 20 years, firms have really woken up to the business case for diversity. Not only does it bring fresh perspective, aid innovation and prevent talent pools and employee pipelines from stagnating, but it also guards against a “herd mentality” where perspectives – especially in the boardroom – become too similar.