City law firms ‘lead way’ on social mobility

City of London

City firms: social mobility strategies driven by commercial needs

City law firms like Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy are leading the way in their approach to social mobility and recruitment when compared to non-legal professionals, a report has argued.

Firms had responded to criticism by former cabinet minister Alan Milburn in his 2009 report on social mobility with a range of initiatives which went beyond window-dressing or tokenism, GTI Media, which specialises in graduate recruitment, found.

“Law firms want to set the bar high, to only take on the brightest and the best – and to be seen therefore as elite recruiters,” its report said.

“But at the same time, they need to convince the brightest students who don’t normally hear messages of encouragement from large recruiters (or hear anything at all from large recruiters) that they are indeed serious about raising aspirations and being open to all.”

The report concluded that the legal profession had “got together, shared information and worked collaboratively towards common goals”, with the result that, more than any other sector, it had been able to “mobilise large and small recruiters in a national initiative to create a more level playing field”.

Initiatives mentioned included Clifford Chance, which combined a ‘CV blind’ approach to interview assessments with asking for additional social mobility data from students, including whether or not they received free school meals and details of their parents’ income.

Linklaters was described as “probably the most transparent law firm” in terms of publishing its social mobility and diversity data. The survey said that last year the firm recruited students from 37 universities, 24% of whom were the first people in their family to go to university.

Allen & Overy, which won the Association of Graduate Recruiters social mobility award last year, provided work experience and mentoring for over 500 disadvantaged 17 year-olds through its Smart Start programme, according to the report. The firm is also a co-founder of PRIME, a national work experience initiative.

The report asked: “Is all this activity window-dressing, tokenism or a marketing gimmick to conceal the fact that City law firms are actually still targeting only the usual suspects?

“After all, many of the programmes currently involve school children who won’t be employable for several more years.”

The conclusion GTI came to was that this was not the case, because activity was driven by commercial needs and because “only an idiot recruiter would not buy into the fact that talent resides in many other universities outside the Russell Group and in many other social classes and ethnic groups”.

Other reasons were that the 15 firms featured in the report all had “buy-in from senior partners” for their work and because recruiters at City law firms “expressed the same emotion when talking about discovering talent” from non-traditional sources: “It was, to them all, much more satisfying to recruit a student with a difficult educational background, from a minor university and a different social class than it is to pull fish from the same old ponds.”



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