Social mobility at entry level into law firms is often “not translating into promotion opportunities”, the new president of Birmingham Law Society has said.
Alice Kinder, at 31 the youngest president of the society in its 205-year history, said that making social background a protected characteristic under the Equality Act could provide “a lot of clarity” for businesses.
Ms Kinder said she struggled to get work experience at a law firm, having come from a working-class family, gone to a state school and “lacking the necessary connections”.
Instead, the retail jobs she did while studying law at Birmingham University gave her “a lot of confidence and business awareness” that she could use later for job applications.
Ms Kinder, a senior associate at consultant-led law firm Bexley Beaumont, said the concept of social mobility was “not widely spoken about” when she was studying law 10 years ago.
There were concerns not only about “certain universities” having priority, but some law firms asked applicants whether they knew anyone at their firm.
The social mobility agenda has risen in importance since then and some law firms were now using ‘blind recruitment’ techniques, which removed details of candidates’ educational backgrounds.
However, the latest Solicitors Regulation Authority figures showed that 22% of solicitors were at a fee-paying school, compared to 7.5% in the UK population as a whole. More than half (58%) come from families with a professional background, compared to 37% in the wider population.
Ms Kinder said it was important to ensure that social mobility initiatives covered outreach, progression and retention.
While the profession had become more socially diverse at entry level, “that is not necessarily translating into promotion opportunities”.
At the moment social background was not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
Ms Kinder said that if it became one, it would provide “a lot of clarity” for businesses and “would do a lot to shift the dial in terms of unacceptable behaviour”.
The solicitor said the Birmingham Law Society Social Mobility Pledge was being launched this month, in partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation.
Individual lawyers and firms could make an online pledge to foster equal opportunities. Individuals could become mentors with the foundation, while employers could commit to collecting social mobility data and join the foundation’s Employer Index.
Ms Kinder is also launching an online internship next month for students at Birmingham Law Society’s member law schools. The aim is to provide monthly sessions focused on skills development, particularly suitable for law students who have jobs as well as studying for their degrees.
In a further initiative, Ms Kinder said the law society would be diversifying its networking opportunities, so that some events were held outside the city centre.
She will be running her first marathon next spring to raise funds for the Social Mobility Foundation.
Ms Kinder added that Birmingham had “lots to be proud of”, with a young and very diverse population and an unprecedented level of development.
“A significant proportion of people are living in areas among the most deprived in the country. The disparity between income levels risks becoming more pronounced.”