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Law firms need to renew their focus on improving social mobility

Posted by: Laurence Simons 30/01/17
A number of leading UK law firms have demonstrated their commitment to improving social mobility in the profession. And with good reason, as our research last year showed that 44% of partners at Magic or Silver Circle firms studied at either Oxford or Cambridge and a further 34% attended one of the UK’s 22 other Russell group universities.

However,  a recent report from the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), suggests that lawyers from ‘affluent backgrounds’ stand to take on average £6,800 (17%) a year more than their peers from less affluent backgrounds. The report’s findings draw upon almost 65,000 data samples taken from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS), which covers a range of professions, including law. Worryingly, the report also found that when comparing colleagues with the same level of education, the same job role and the same level of experience, those from ‘poorer’ backgrounds still earn on average £2,242 (7%) less than their immediate peers.

In addition to revealing a concerning pay disparity, the report also noted that access to ‘traditional professions’ such as law, “remain dominated by those from advantaged backgrounds”. In According to the SMC, just 13% of solicitors are working class, while almost two thirds (62%) come from ‘professional and managerial’ families.

The report notes that the upwardly mobile may be victims of ‘demand-side’ mechanisms of discrimination, being consciously or unconsciously given fewer rewards, for instance. It goes on to explain that “this may manifest as outright discrimination or snobbery, or it may have to do with more subtle processes of favouritism or “cultural matching”, whereby elite employers misrecognise social and cultural traits rooted in middle-class backgrounds as signals of merit and talent.”

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