Meanwhile, a study of the educational background of the UK’s leading solicitors shows a near 50-50 split between attending independent and state schools, and later Oxbridge and ‘Other’ universities.
Of the judges that currently sit on the High Court and the Court of Appeal, 74% attended independent schools and the Oxbridge universities. For the UK’s top 100 QCs, 71% attended private schooling while 78% are Oxbridge graduates.
Additionally, diversity data gathered for law firms with 50+ partners reveals that 48% went to private schools, while a separate sample of the top 100 solicitors as ranked by Chambers UK shows that 55% attended Oxbridge.
Clearly, it is an understatement to add that these figures are disproportionately high compared to the 7% of the general population who have obtained independent schooling.
Accompanying polling conducted by YouGov shows that 52% of senior figures in the legal industry believe that improving social mobility in the legal profession would be beneficial to their organisation, while 71% acknowledge the benefits it offers to society as a whole.
Yet thinking becomes more muddled when candidates’ backgrounds are considered, as 36% of the survey respondents rate a candidate’s background as an important factor in recruitment, while 39% consider it neither important nor unimportant.
Commenting on this research, Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, says: ‘Today’s findings, in particular the worrying fact that the high proportion of privately educated judges has barely changed since the 1980s, warn us that there is still a big social mobility problem within the legal sector. There have been improvements however, not least in the monitoring of solicitors and in the willingness of big legal firms to work through programmes like PRIME and our Pathways to Law programme. We need to see those efforts redoubled, and to persuade the sceptics that it is vital to get the best talent into law.’
David Morley, Allen & Overy senior partner and chairman of PRIME, adds: ‘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.’
While law firms are rightly expected to take a lead role in championing greater social mobility in the profession, research shows that the Bar is performing considerably worse on this key indicator. Aside from the joint Sutton Trust/PRIME publication, a separate study published by the London School of Economics and reported today by Legal Business shows that male, Oxbridge-educated barristers at City-based chambers are more likely to take silk than their counterparts, despite the 2004 reform to the appointments system.