Clifford Chance backs new scheme to close access to professions gap

A new access scheme to close the gap between socially disadvantaged students getting to university and entering the professions has been launched, backed by Clifford Chance.

UpReach aims to support students throughout their university careers and into the profession of their choice. The pilot this year will see 40 students embark upon workshops, open days and pairing with mentors across the scheme’s founding partner firm Clifford Chance and accountancy and management firms.

Recent University of Exeter graduate and scheme founder Henry Morris said: “I noticed at university that social background can affect undergraduate access to the professions and it struck me that the work that was being done when it comes to accessing university was important but then there was a question as to what happens next.

“It seemed to me that there was a huge missed opportunity with those students who had overcome obstacles to get to university and had great talent but it seemed weren’t fulfilling their potential. Employers were missing out and universities were not necessarily doing everything they could to help these undergraduates.”

Criteria for selection focuses on striking a balance between which students are most able to fulfil their potential and their social background. Participating universities and employers then co-fund the programme, which focuses on a combination of knowledge, soft skills, networks and professional experience.

The scheme aims to bridge the gap to the professions university can create by linking up with access schemes focused at school students such as the Sutton Trust’s Pathway to Law. Morris said: “One associate was involved with Clifford Chance in a school initiative and is now an upReach associate. It’s the continuity of support which makes the difference.”

Clifford Chance is a founding partner and the only law frm to currently be involved with the scheme. Laura Yeates, graduate recruitment and development manager, said: ““Henry was looking for a founding partner and so we became involved in September or October last year.

“The seller for us was that Henry is very keen to work with other parties. A big driver was that there are amazing students who get to university but they get lost within a huge structure and don’t have the support. That was the piece that was missing. That’s what was exciting.”

Morris is determined that once students graduate or enter their chosen profession they will still be on upReach’s radar. He said: “…at the centre of our mission is to build a community of professionals committed to ensuring that social background is no barrier to accessing or succeeding in the professions. Think networking events, speeches, policy launches which upReach ambassadors, former associates on campus, help to organise and deliver.”

Twelve upReach candidates are currently being paired with Clifford Chance trainees and associates. Next year, the firm hopes to partner upReach candidates with partners so that they are able to access support at all levels of the profession. The firm pairs upReach candidates with employees who graduated from the same university as the candidate so that the relationship starts on familiar ground.

Yeats added that upReach targets: “High potential students who don’t have connections or the confidence to approach city firms for jobs.”

Morris agrees that confidence is a major obstacle for non-traditional students but also believes that financial restrictions impact candidates. He said: “If you’re good enough then you should be able to access a training contract that pays for you to become a solicitor. The money is there but the challenge is how able you are to fulfil your potential during the process.

“Money does form a barrier but it is subtle. Your finances might stop you doing extended unpaid work; not being able to do extended unpaid work may mean that you have less professional experience than your peers which may mean that your more privileged peers can get access to training contracts more readily than you.”

Next year, upReach aims to expand to other universities in order to reach more associates. It is currently allied with only the University of Exeter and also recruits associates directly from London with no university liaison.