City firms have set an initiative to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the legal profession, in a push to debunk the idea that some young people are excluded because they are ‘not posh enough’.

The City Solicitors Horizons initiative has been backed by 18 firms, including Linklaters and Baker & McKenzie, and the City of London Law Society. It was set up by City of London Solicitors’ Company, the City Solicitors’ Educational Trust and the Legal Education Foundation.

The programme will select 50 undergraduates annually from universities in London and the south of England to take part in the three-year programme as part of a pilot scheme. They will be selected based on social mobility criteria, their commitment to pursuing a legal career and academic performance.

During the programme students will get classroom and one-to-one training sessions, mentoring from experienced lawyers and work experience with one of the 18 sponsoring firms. City Solicitors Horizons will also look to in-house departments and the public sector to host work experience. 

Recruitment for the first cohort of students – those in their first term studying law at university - will begin in January in readiness for an initial training course at the end of the summer term.

The initiative was in set up in a response to a government-backed report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which suggested that elite firms were requiring applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry into the profession. This, the commission said, was systematically excluding bright working-class people from the workforce.  

City firms hope the initiative will address the barriers faced by those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and will help the students participating in the scheme enter the legal profession as trainee solicitors.

Alasdair Douglas, chair of the City of London Law Society, said: ‘It is in our interest to attract the brightest and best talent. Our members, over 50 leading law firms, make a considerable investment in training the future lawyers of tomorrow. To rule out an entire cohort of bright young people based on their background would be short-sighted in the extreme, so I am pleased that City firms are working collaboratively to support social mobility, and give promising students a better chance of gaining entry into the legal profession.’

Roger Finbow, chair of the City Solicitors’ Educational Trust management committee, said he hoped the scheme would help those from disadvantaged backgrounds compete on a more level footing with other students when trying to get a training contract.

He said: ‘The legal profession has engaged in a number of initiatives over the past few years aimed at enhancing social mobility. However, the provision of support and assistance for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are already reading law at universities and wish to join the legal profession is noticeably lacking, and many of these students still find it difficult to obtain training contracts.’