Social mobility moves up the agenda

After years of being dominated by the privileged few, the legal profession is finally making strides to become more inclusive. By Husnara Begum

The legal sector is ­finally starting to take social ­mobility seriously. As revealed last month (4 April), a group of senior magic circle partners ­recently ­convened a meeting at the offices of Allen & Overy (A&O) to explore ways their firms could ­collaborate to level the playing field for ­candidates from less well-off backgrounds.

It is believed that items on the agenda included the introduction of a work experience programme for A-level students, as most firms’ vacation schemes are ­currently only open to penultimate-year and final-year undergraduates or those who have completed their degrees.

The partners also discussed ways to encourage those from non-traditional backgrounds to consider ­support roles in the legal sector.

Deborah Dalgleish, head of ­diversity and inclusion at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, acknowledges that social mobility is a serious ­problem for law firms.

“The legal sector suffers from some of the lowest levels of intergenerational social mobility,” she says. “So this is a particularly ­pressing issue for the sector to address. All the evidence shows that greater diversity ­delivers more ­creativity and innovation, so for firms anything that can help ensure they identify all possible sources of talent is strategically important.”

The legal sector was ­singled out as being ­dominated by those from privileged backgrounds by government social mobility tsar Alan ­Milburn in his report on the issue, published in 2009.

Since then the Legal ­Services Board (LSB) has launched a consultation ­document which is expected to form the largest-ever survey of the profession’s diversity credentials. As part of the ­data-gathering exercise, the LSB plans to ask lawyers to reveal whether their ­parents