Breaking Shock Horror: The law is dominated by public school boys/girls… still!

I like the H M Bateman cartoons.  The fact that he attended the same public school I did, albeit at different times, is interesting to me – because I did not know that.  Mind you…so did Miles Kington and he spoke Franglais far better than I can, now, speak French… to my shame.

The reference to a public school (Glenalmond in Scotland) is not puffery… but is deliberate..because it appears that *DownTurn Abbey* is alive and well in the law according to an article in Legal Week last week…..

New study highlights extent of public school bias among legal profession

Legal Week reports: Lawyers are more than seven times as likely to have been privately educated than the general population, according to new research.

A survey of almost 50,000 City professionals, conducted by legal recruitment consultancy Laurence Simons, found that 15% of lawyers were educated at the UK’s 250 public schools, compared to just 2% of the general population.

The figures add further weight to claims that social exclusivity in the legal sector is a problem that needs to be addressed.

From those surveyed, 2,717 (5%) had been educated at either Eton, Westminster or Winchester, with 830 of those (30%) going on to become lawyers.

The findings come after a report last year looking at fair access to the professions included a submission from the Sutton Trust stating that between 1988 and 2004, the proportion of magic circle partners aged under 39 who had been privately educated increased from 59% to 71%.

Laurence Simons director Jason Horobin said: “The figures paint a disturbingly regressive picture of the opportunities open to those wishing to get into law. Social exclusivity is rife in the industry.”

All I can say… is that it will only get worse – University fees are going up, the law school fees for the LPC and BPTC are *pacy* and committees are being set up to write *Diversity* reports faster than footballers and other celebrities can get superinjunctions down at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Articles like this both annoy and worry me – partly because statistics may well bear out practice.  The irony is that so much work has been done by the profession to encourage potential lawyers from all social backgrounds to consider law in the last twenty years – only for vocational law school fees now to be set at  £15k for a one year course which could probably be taught by distance learning and some face to face tuition at a lesser cost (I did discuss this concept with Lord Goldsmith in The House of Lords some years ago – and he was kind enough to show me some unusual wall paper in one of the ‘State Rooms’ – The ideas were not followed up – possibly because he was rather busy giving advice to HM Government on Iraq et al), and now, government fee plans for all degrees are rising so that it is becoming more  difficult for those from less wealthy backgrounds to consider going into law (and other fields of life?)

From what I know of this issue we can’t simply can’t point the finger at the law firms – they can only recruit those available to recruit. Lord Neuberger’s diversity report, a fine document, may not become a practical reality through simple economics rather than bias to a particular class? Scholarships and bursaries can only go so far….. realpolitik may well make it impossible to achieve greater diversity, no matter how keen the profession is to achieve it.

8 thoughts on “Breaking Shock Horror: The law is dominated by public school boys/girls… still!

  1. and this is news?

    The non practising barrister glut isn’t about deluded former poly idiots – people from Russell Group universities are having difficulties getting a look in.

    Please spare me the “we’ve got people from polys at my chambers” tales. You may have, but I’m betting they haven’t been recruited in the last three years.

    And these are the people who want to sign off solicitor advocates? These paragons of “diversity”?

    Do me a favour.

  2. Indeed CharonQC – it will only get worse. I often think that this is actually the way the various legal vested interests want things to be. However, maybe I am getting into a bit of a conspiracy theorist in my old age !! Ultimately, family connections with law firms / chambers will take one a long way. We all know that to be true.

  3. Yes, this hand wringing and countless reports are somewhat ironic.

    Having said that, solicitors have made more headway than the Bar. Solicitors’ firms generally are a bit more in touch, ironically, with anti discrimination legislation and how to implement it in their own firms.

    Having friends and pro bono colleagues who sit on Pupillage Committees, I hear first hand the care and attention that is paid to OLPAS applications… One has a better chance via an HR sift. Which is downright Alanis.

    My “please spare me” is directed and the defenders of the Bar in this nation’s jurisdiction, not Charon, who sees all.

  4. I grew up on a council estate and went to the local comprehensive school. And still managed to get into Cambridge.

    Problem is that schools like Eton or Rugby or Winchester are just such damn good schools so their pupils will be over represented.

  5. Sean – They are good schools. Being fair to profession – they were trying hard to get broader representation and scholarships… easy to be glib and criticise…. what we need to do is get better schools for more people to give more a chance.

    I do wonder if the law schools are getting very greedy though.

    The LPC and BPTC course cd be done very much more cheaply with downloadable materials, fewer face to face sessions – but the law schools just won;t wear it…despite providing materials in downloadable form! The great irony!

    Who really needs to go to a lecture or a basic seminar when good materials can be downloaded. Seminars are often a waste of time. I lost count of the number of times I had to do most of the talking in seminars because some students had done little or no preparation and could, therefore, make no sensible contribution to discussion without creating serious problems for everyone (and me!) by getting it so badly wrong.

    £15k for as BPTC course is astonishing…. why does a law school need a *glassy* building? etc etc etc…. no-one is interested in how courses can be done more cheaply…

    It is, however, a factor in dissuading people from joining the profession.

  6. I have worked in the HR department of a Magic Circle firm (a number of years ago admittedly) and witnessed what I perceived at the time as a definite bias towards recruiting public and private school educated students. However, a former ex-boyfriend from a Midlands council estate was recruited at Associate level shortly after I left so in hindsight, perhaps these firms do just want to recruit the best from whichever school but as Sean says Eton etc are ‘just such damn good schools so their pupils will be over represented’.

    I agree that state school education should be improved. My own daughter went to a ‘good’ state school but was ignored because she was good, quiet and bright and would meet their targets so there was no incentive to push her to achieve her actual potential. Such satisfaction with mediocrity is not going to get students training contracts or pupillages.

    Less privileged kids from state schools also need to be encouraged to view law as an option open to them. I know the Sutton Trust through Pathways to Law and is trying to make headway here.

    In theory, law school fees for the LPC shouldn’t be a stumbling block for students who get training contracts with Magic Circle and other large City law firms, as the firms pay the fees and a maintenance grant (although as the research shows, these training contracts are going to those who need the money least….back to square one). However, for those who want to start the LPC without a training contract, I agree that the high fees will put poorer students off. No-one wants to come out of university and then law school £40K in debt. Instead of dumbing down the LPC and decreasing the amount of face to face tuition, I think it would be better if law schools offered generous scholarships and bursaries to students who show potential but cannot afford fees.

  7. Pingback: Legal Education Review: Where does the knowledge come from? by Prof Richard Moorhead « Charon QC

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