City firms are too wedded to Russell Group universities and are using graduate tests that favour privileged candidates, a social mobility charity has said.

Sarah Atkinson, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said law firms are ‘working hard’ to improve diversity but need to address their recruitment methods.

‘When it comes to recruitment the law sector still is really wedded to the Russell Group in a way that other sectors – even other professional services sectors – are moving away from. We’ve seen good progress in outreach, but when it comes to offers 84% of the graduate intake for law firms are from Russell Group universities. That’s 24 of the least diverse institutions in the whole of the UK.’

Blind recruitment – where employers do not see what universities candidates attended – could make a ‘real difference’, Atkinson said.

‘If you don’t see names of institutions until later in the process it’s much easier to rule out that unconscious bias that can cleave to Russell Group universities, Oxbridge, those kind of familiar names.’

Atkinson added there is ‘no doubt’ that graduate tests used by City firms favour more privileged candidates.

Law firms were well represented in the charity’s 2020 Social Mobility Index, which ranks UK employers on their efforts to access and promote talent from all backgrounds.

Of the top 75 employers, 27 were law firms, with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner leading the sector in fourth place. National firm Browne Jacobson was ranked fifth and Herbert Smith Freehills LLP came seventh.

Businesses must apply to appear on the index, but the service is free.


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