Milburn: Law on right track on social mobility, but too slow

Lawyers are “on the right track” in addressing fair access to the profession but “progress is too slow”, says the deputy prime minister’s social mobility adviser Alan Milburn.

Publishing a “progress report” on the issue, he said no profession had “cracked the  fair access problem” and that professions such as law, journalism and medicine must do more to widen their intake.

In 2010, the former Labour health secretary was tasked by the coalition with looking at the state of social mobility, having performed a similar role for Gordon Brown.

Milburn’s report “Fair Access to Professional Careers” published today said that in some cases the legal sector  is “at the forefront of driving activity”, particularly through outreach programmes and the introduction of socio-economic data collection.

Highlighting outreach programme PRIME as “an excellent example of a sector-wide collaboration” the report commented “it is important that such activity is delivered in a co-ordinated, sustainable way so that schools and employers can manage their resources more effectively to allow as many young people as possible to benefit from such programmes and initiatives.”

On the subject of data collection, the report commended The Legal Services Board, which will introduce annual data collection and monitoring from December 2012, as being “one of the few regulatory bodies to have started to get to grips with this issue”.

Focusing on the bar the report concluded that “the most lucrative, prestigious and secure areas of the self-employed bar have seen the least progression in terms of diversity and social mobility … The senior branches of the legal profession continue to be characterised by a social exclusivity that is at odds with the growing diversity of the society it serves. Progress is limited and much more needs to be done.”

The report went on to say that many respondents from the legal sector focused on aspiration-raising programmes as their primary tool for improving social mobility, and Milburn had seen many examples of good practice, including that of the Inns of Court which is “challenging young people’s stereotypes about what it is like to work at the bar.”

Responding to the report, Patrick Maddams, sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple, welcomed the recognition of the work the Inns of Court in promoting access to the Bar.

“We work with a wide range of state schools and universities to ensure young people, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds, are aware of professional careers. Our programmes aim to ensure that talented students from all walks of life can reach their full potential at the Bar of England and Wales. However, we are not complacent and recognise there is still more to be done,” he said.

James Dingemans QC, Chair of the Inner Temple Outreach Committee, added: “No one institution can address all of the issues surrounding social mobility and access to the professions, but everyone has a responsibility to do what can be done to break down any potential barriers to entry. Inner Temple is working with, and on behalf of, the profession to address some of these barriers.”