Research reveals widening social divide in the profession

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More than one in seven lawyers come from private schools, despite just one in 50 of the population receiving private education, new research has suggested.

While 93% of the population are state educated, only 85% of lawyers went to non-public schools, according to an analysis of nearly 50,000 lawyers’ profiles on business networking site LinkedIn, by legal recruiter Laurence Simons.

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Of the 49,600 lawyers’ profiles analysed, 7,200 attended one of the country’s 250 public schools.

Laurence Simons pointed to ‘the demise of grammar schools and the prolonged decline in academic standards in the state sector’ as the key reason for the discrepancy.

Laurence Simons director Jason Horobin said that 53% of magic circle solicitors and 82% of barristers were educated at Oxbridge.

‘The figures paint a disturbingly regressive picture of the opportunities open to those wishing to get into law,’ he said. ‘Social exclusivity is rife in the industry. This is a real policy blind spot: a lot has been done to address the under-representation of women and ethnic minority groups, and we’re at least on the way to tackling those issues. But the under-representation of those who can’t afford a silver-plated education is getting worse, not better.

‘As far as a candidate’s prospects as a lawyer are concerned, the ability of a student’s school to propel him or her into the best universities will directly affect their employability later on. With 53% of magic circle solicitors and 82% of barristers having been educated at Oxbridge, there is a clear link between competitiveness when entering higher education and the ability to achieve a legal career after university.’

He added: ‘This doesn’t appear to be a case of wanton snobbery on behalf of legal employers – in many ways, Britain’s blue-chip legal employers are simply reacting to the decline of state education. The overwhelming conclusion must be that if your children aspire to a successful legal career and you are choosing them a school, it pays to pay.’

Laurence Simons also suggested that between 1988 and 2004, the proportion of privately educated magic circle partners aged under 39 grew from 59% to 71%; and that in the late 1980s, 10% fewer barristers and 15% fewer solicitors were privately educated than in the early 2000s.

In 1958, slightly more than 40% of lawyers grew up in families with an above-average income, whereas in 1970, 60% of lawyers grew up in families with an above-average income, the recruitment firm said.

In 1997, 83% of those who achieved three A-levels came from state schools, but by 2007, only 70% were state educated, said Laurence Simons.

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