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The marriage between legal practice and private education

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/11/15

Recent data from the Sutton Trust, a UK-based educational charity which aims to improve social mobility and address educational disadvantage, has revealed that nearly three quarters of senior judges and 71% of top QCs are privately educated. This number has barely fallen since 1989 – even though only 7% of British children attend fee-paying schools.

This highlights the ongoing issues with the diversification of the sector, and a move away from traditional practices. Now, increasing numbers of firms are looking to more innovative means of recruitment to ensure that they are not missing out on the top talent, such as offering internships to those candidates who have not attended university.

It is not only important to ensure that there is not a glass ceiling – or perhaps even a glass door – facing those who wish to enter the sector without private education. It is also vital that firms guard against reducing their talent pools substantially if they want to remain a head and shoulders above their competition. Importantly, diversifying practices through the inclusion of those from different backgrounds is vital to the success of a workforce as it guards against a “herd mentality”.

Prime, an alliance of 89 law firms and legal departments across the UK, is a scheme set up to broaden access to the legal profession. David Morley, the chairman of the initiative and a senior partner at Allen & Overy, has commented: “The work carried out under programmes like Prime and Pathways to Law has started a process of change in the legal sector’s approach to opening up access to the profession, but it is clear we are only at the beginning of the journey. The research shows that a large part of the responsibility for solving this issue lies with law firms, so we need to ensure they attack the problem with the energy and enthusiasm it deserves.”

Do you think the legal sector has a diversity issue?