Byfield Guest Blog by Funke Abimbola, Diversity Champion

Opening up or shutting out? Social mobility in the legal profession

I am honoured to be writing this guest blog as we launch our report on social mobility within the UK legal profession.

Social mobility is an issue very close to my heart and remains a real priority for the government. When the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (the Commission) was established with Alan Milburn as chair, it was tasked with monitoring the progress of the government and others in improving social mobility and reducing child poverty in the UK. The Commission’s May 2012 report, “Fair Access to Professional Careers” highlighted key concerns around social mobility within the professions including the legal sector.

A follow on report was released in June this year, “A qualitative evaluation of non-educational barriers to the elite professions” . Based on this latest report’s findings, elite employers are more likely to judge job candidates on the way they speak, than by their potential ability to do the job. With claims that members of the working class are not being given job opportunities at top firms unless they are “posh”. The report confirmed that over two-thirds of jobs within top City firms are eventually filled by graduates from more privileged backgrounds who have either been to private or grammar schools. This is of particular concern when you consider that only seven and four per cent of school children attend private and selective grammar schools respectively.

Encouragingly, this problem is recognised by a number of City law firms who have committed to various schemes and initiatives to broaden access at entry level. For example, PRIME is an alliance of law firms and legal departments across the UK who have committed to offering work experience to young people from less privileged backgrounds who might otherwise not have the opportunity to access careers in the legal world. Recognising that finding work experience opportunities within the legal profession mainly depends on an extensive network of contacts within the profession itself, PRIME’s members have made a collective commitment to change this by providing fair access to work experience schemes.

Our report tells the social mobility story through the personal experiences of legal professionals from a cross-section of the profession. Our hope is that we continue to not only raise awareness of this issue but drive fundamental change within the profession itself.