Over half of partners at City firms attended private schools, research has found, while solicitors from lower socio-economic backgrounds take 18 months longer to reach partner than their richer colleagues.

According to a study by the Bridge Group, a social equality consultancy, 53% of partners at leading law firms in England attended independent schools. This figure dips to 47% for the wider associate, senior associate and partner population.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with 10 firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Hogan Lovells, also found that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds take a year and a half longer on average to reach partner than their more advantaged colleagues.

Meanwhile, those who identify as white progress to partner nearly two years more quickly than those from other ethnic groups, and female lawyers take nearly a year longer to reach partner than male ones. 

The Bridge Group concluded that partners at City firms are ‘deeply lacking in diversity’, most acutely by socioeconomic background. ‘The pipeline is still disproportionately narrow for those from state school backgrounds. It is highly likely that the predominance of independently schooled associates will in future be at least replicated at partner level,’ it said.

In a series of recommendations, the consultancy urged firms to lobby for socio-economic background to be a protected characteristic, enacting Section One of the Equality Act. It also asked City firms to review their criteria for progression to partner. 

Simon Davies, president of the Law Society, said: ‘To see firms collaborating on research of this kind, sharing resource and data to get to the heart of the issue is a good sign, as only by working together as a profession will we really be able to make a difference. Building on previous Bridge Group research on the relationship between early career progression in the law, this latest report gives us a fuller picture of the impact that socio-economic background has on varying stages of the employee life cycle and asks us difficult questions.

'Many law firms are doing great things and have made good progress, more can and will be done.'