Over a third of the England rugby union squad which embarked for the World Cup in Japan comes from a black and minority ethnic background. This is to the credit of a nation so often lampooned by rivals for fielding more white-and-middle-class Hugos and Henrys than you can shake a shooting stick at. 

Paul rogerson

Paul Rogerson

It is stretching a point, nevertheless, to celebrate Team England as a ‘reflection of modern society’, as did one newspaper. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Elitist Britain 2019, a report from the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission, found that 37% of male British rugby internationals went to fee-paying schools – a key indicator of privilege. That compares to just 7% of the population. 

Crucially, moreover, this bald statistic obscures substantial differences within the union (and between the unions). Only 25% of England internationals attended comprehensives, in stark contrast to 81% playing for Six Nations champions Wales. And Scotland – fed by Edinburgh’s venerable rugby schools – is much more like England than Wales.

Social class, you see, remains the Cinderella of diversity, even among well-meaning observers. But not in the law. Or at least some of the law. This week, we report that the profession again dominates a league table of 75 employers doing the most to improve social mobility.

Heartening news but – as in rugby – the analysis needs to go deeper. Last week’s Annual Statistics Report on the profession detailed a similarly welcome rise in the number of BAME solicitors. Based as it is on SRA data, however, the survey tells us little about social background. 

Happily, the Law Society is putting that right. This year’s separate PC Holder survey, which deploys a representative sample of 1,500 solicitors, is asking detailed questions on social mobility. These will build on headline findings from 2018, which I can disclose here:

  • 12% of PC holders were eligible for free school meals
  • 27% attended a UK independent school
  • 52% were in the first generation of their family to attend university.

If the profession is serious about broadening its diversity goals beyond the protected characteristics, this is the kind of information it needs. Or how will it measure real progress?