I had a fascinating telephone discussion last week, with an opponent from Newcastle Upon Tyne. As soon as I introduced myself, she that she knew who I was by my Liverpool accent. She was saying this in a voice that could have belonged to Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, formerly Cole!
According to some recent research neither of us would pass the ‘poshness’ test favoured by many so called elite law firms. The report from the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that such firms were overwhelmingly likely to recruit from students who had attended private schools. Top of the poshness class was Slaughter and May, 50% of whose partners were privately educated.
Some firms actually said that it was too costly to recruit from a broad class base –
This tells us much about the different world in which some lawyers live and work. Nearly all of the lawyers that I know, went to state schools and did not go to Oxbridge. I would certainly fail any poshness test by some distance.
But this does raises a worrying issue about the direction of our profession.
I was one of the very fortunate generations who did not have to pay tuition fees and also had a student grant for spending money! Students are now finishing college with debts of about £50k. It is becoming increasingly difficult for graduates to obtain training contracts, and even harder for aspiring barristers to get pupillage. Many law firms recruit paralegals who have passed their exams and who then work for many years in that role in the vain hope of being offered a training contract. I am sure that many just get lost in the system and eventually give up hope.
A couple of years ago I referred to concerns from Lady Hale that many students aspire to a career that they can never have –
There is a real risk that the law becomes a career option for the privileged. Why would any talented student want to rack up eye watering levels of debt only to find that there is no job at the end. We could see the day when only those who are well off or who have relatives in the profession have any chance.
Society needs a diverse legal profession.
As far as I am concerned the elite can keep their poshness tests.
But if I was starting today that would not be the only barrier. It is highly unlikely that I would have made it. I would certainly have been more relaxed if my lawyer son had told me he wanted to be in a rock band.
We all need to look at ways of broadening access to the profession. A review of tuition fees would be an encouraging start. Relaxation of the SRA’s training regulations should also encourage firms to offer proper training contracts rather than never ending paralegal work.
But we must do something...