Is social immobility within the Legal Profession a factor pertinent throughout time?

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Social immobility is a factor which is pertinent throughout time. In 1941, George Orwell wrote that Britain was ‘the most class-ridden society under the sun.’ In light of the legal sector, it is mentioned that, such a “diversity deficit weakens the quality of justice”. Is this apparent in 2022, especially within the legal sector?

The Issue

Despite social mobility being subject to SRA’s principle 9, that all businesses must comply with the legislation on equality and diversity. There is still social immobility within the profession. This segment of the SRA principle means that solicitors and firms must encourage the equality of opportunity and respect for diversity.

Nevertheless, social immobility is a factor which continues to exist. Likewise, the state of nation report published by the Social Mobility Commission on the 20th July 2021 revealed that individuals from elite backgrounds are 60% more likely to be in professional job roles as opposed to those from working class backgrounds. In addition, they earn an average of £60,000 less than the privileged colleagues.

Barrister Chambers

Moreover, such immobility can also exist within barrister chambers, which stems from within the educational system. For instance, a report into judicial diversity by Geoffrey Bindman QC and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers found that 71% of the senior judiciary attended independent schools, with one in seven judges going to just five independent schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys. While just 7% of the nation is privately educated, 44% of places at Oxford and 40% of places at Cambridge are taken by students from private backgrounds.

In support of this, the hiring pattern at the highest paid chambers (commercial and chancery bar) was that 32 out of a total of 36 were from Oxbridge. At another renowned chamber, the grand total was 28 out of 32, these striking figures clearly demonstrate the social immobility. However, there seems to be an element of diversity in terms of universities from the Criminal Bar. 

Moreover, the social immobility is driven by the low paid jobs that some barristers may have to undertake, perhaps it is more feasible for those from more privileged backgrounds.  In a speech at the ‘One Bar One Voice’ event in 2014, Hannah Evans noted that a typical day’s fee for a trial in the Magistrates’ Court is around £80, out of which must come travel costs and tax. It is said that it is difficult for people without independent financial means to stay at the publicly funded bar, this is a driving factor which is forcing individuals out of the profession. 

Law Firms

Likewise, there also seems to be some imbalance within law firms, as highlighted from the findings of research made by the Bridge Group. But it found that among ten leading City law firms, 53% of partners attended independent schools and that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds took a year and a half longer on average to make partner. It is clear that there is a social imbalance between law firms and diversity, directly correlating with the issues highlighted above in relation to the bar.

Future Outlook

A way in which firms can influence such immobility is to bridge the educational barriers. They could interact with different schools and universities. The business case for diversity article published on the 14th February 2018 mentions that interacting with such institutions will allow firms to assess their own policies and ways of working.

The creator of Urban Lawyers in 2009, which aims to “provide inspiration to people who want to join the profession and education to people who want to know their legal rights” is an example of how to bridge this diversity gap. Urban Lawyers runs workshops for improving soft skills, interview technique, CVs and pupillage applications, along with networking events whereby “people who don’t have access to professionals get to meet them,” thus enabling them to seek guidance or advice.

From the findings above, it is clear that social immobility exists and there needs to be more encouragement from law firms and barrister’s chambers to plug this gap. 

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