The Sutton Trust recently published a report which found that 65% of the most senior barristers in the UK are drawn from fee-paying schools. Though the findings of the report were blasted by the legal profession, it got us wondering – does the legal industry do enough to ensure that students of non-traditional backgrounds can access the highest echelons of the profession?
As the discourse advocating greater social mobility gains momentum, it seems the legal world is beginning to take heed by introducing a range of initiatives designed to encourage pupils of non-traditional backgrounds to enter the law.
Here are Bell Yard’s top six diversity initiatives – both old and new – launched by law firms, barristers’ chambers, and charities, that are helping to change the face of the legal profession.
1. Kingsley Napley – The Legal Apprentice
Kingsley Napley* have inaugurated an exciting competition aimed at year-12 students across the UK, which, in its first year, saw 902 teams from 308 schools sign up. Teams worked together through a series of three tasks testing their legal and interpersonal skills. The final, which was held at News UK in June, saw the victorious duo from St Mary’s Grammar School Magherafelt, proudly take home the winning trophy and (subject to passing an interview) a legal apprenticeship – offering them a debt-free pathway into the law. *full disclosure: Kingsley Napley is a Bell Yard client
2. Linklaters – Virtual Reality Internship
Perhaps one of the leading international firms for trailblazing diversity initiatives, Linklaters has introduced a variety of programmes over the years to give students a taste of what life is like in a magic circle law firm (minus the gruelling hours). Our favourite is the firm’s new ‘virtual reality’ legal internship, “Linklaters Virtual Programme”, a free online internship for university students, which enables users to undertake a range of tasks that mimic those of a solicitor – from leaving voicemails for clients to pitching to a group of banks.
3. Inner Temple – Pegasus Access and Support Scheme
Inner Temple has pioneered a scheme which enables students from underrepresented backgrounds to gain the work experience necessary to become a barrister. The scheme secures mini-pupillages for students from disadvantaged upbringings and covers the costs of travel and accommodation. Set up in 2012, the scheme has since taken on board hundreds of students and, in the words of one successful applicant, it gives an “insight to life at the Bar and a perfect opportunity to make many new connections from students to barristers and members of staff within Inner Temple”.
Sticking with barristers, Young Citizens, a charity which encourages young people to learn more about the law, offers mock trial experiences for school-age children. The trials, which cater for those aged 12-18, give pupils the opportunity to understand more about the legal profession by participating in trials themselves, as witnesses, lawyers and clerks amongst other roles. Clearly the charity recognises the value of targeting school-age pupils, allowing them to make better, more informed decisions about their future.
In the same vein, Big Voice London runs a variety of projects which help students to find out more about the legal profession. One standout programme involves students being assisted by the Law Commission over a three month period to produce a report which mirrors the type of work undertaken by the Commission itself. In the past, the reports have examined a range of legal issues from those related to divorce law to automated vehicles. The programme concludes with a prestigious event in Parliament attended by lawyers and politicians assembled to hear the views of the students.
When a city law firm partner recently told trainees not to wear brown shoes with a blue suit, he was lambasted by the press for his lack of tact and conservatism. But image is important in the world of work– as Kings Chambers recognises – which is why it is partnering with youth leadership organisation, RECLAIM, to provide eight young people from working-class communities the opportunity to enhance their employability skills with a placement at the chambers and awarding them a £100 allowance to buy suitable clothing for their placement. Not too shabby at all.
1 August 2019