The Legal Services Board, Bar Council and 10 top law firms have signed the government’s ‘Business Compact’ on social mobility to end the “who you know, not what you know” culture, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced.
The group is among 113 leading organisations and businesses to sign up to the compact, described as “an unprecedented partnership between business and government to spread opportunities across our society and, crucially, to create culture change in other companies”.
The law firm signatories are: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Baker & McKenzie, CMS Cameron McKenna, Eversheds, Hogan Lovells, Irwin Mitchell, Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons. The Co-operative Group, which is bidding to become an alternative business structure, has also signed up.
Mr Clegg – who congratulated the signatories at a reception last night, said: “By opening their doors to young people from all walks of life, this marks the start of a culture shift among major employers, driven by the belief that ability and drive should trump connections and privilege.”
He is writing today to a further 50 of the UK’s biggest companies asking them to sign up.
The compact forms a key part of Mr Clegg’s social mobility strategy, launched in April 2011. Twice in recent months he has attacked the slow pace of progress  on social mobility in the legal profession.
Signatories must commit to supporting communities and schools, such as through reading and mentoring schemes; advertising work experience places; making access to internships open and transparent, and providing financial support to interns; and recruiting fairly and without discrimination, including using application forms that do not allow candidates to be screened out because of their ethnicity or school.
The Legal Services Board has introduced requirements on the frontline regulators to make law firms and chambers collect and publish staff diversity data . By the end of this month, each one has to produce an action plan on how they intend to ensure that the data is properly collected in their part of the sector.
These plans will be agreed by the LSB, then implemented, and the board expects the first set of data to emerge at the end of 2012.
Chief executive Chris Kenny said: “We are pleased to support the efforts of the government to work alongside business and professional bodies to drive social mobility. We feel the new transparency duties on law firms and chambers will play an important part on helping us to measure how quickly we are seeing change, as well as empowering clients to make choices based on the diversity of the provider.
“The inclusion of socio-economic background amongst the data sets, alongside the characteristics protected in the Equality Act, is a specific legal services sector initiative – the results of which we look forward to sharing.”
Stuart Henderson, a partner and chairman of Irwin Mitchell’s diversity board, said: “We are justifiably proud of our track record in building a diverse workforce throughout our firm which reflects the communities we work with and the clients we serve.”