City lawyers have hit back at claims that firms are systematically excluding working-class people from the workforce.
Research last week from the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission accused firms of applying a ‘poshness test’ by selecting staff using criteria such as travel experiences and accents.
The research, based on interviews with people at 13 ‘elite’ law, accountancy and financial services firms, also revealed that 70% of job offers last year went to graduates at fee-paying or selective schools.
But David Hobart (pictured), chief executive of the City of London Law Society, said that while the research might have reflected the situation at law firms 20 or 30 years ago, it ‘was not an accurate contemporary view’.
He said: ‘Law firms have made great efforts to adjust their interview processes to make it as easy as possible to allow people from a broad range of backgrounds to enter the profession.’
Hobart cited processes that firms are using such as ‘CV-blind’ interviews, which ‘ran rather contrary’ to the research.
‘It is within our own interests to encourage diversity. It is not an issue where we can possibly sit on our hands,’ he said, adding that
CLLS was about to launch a mentoring initiative to further address this issue.
The government report criticised firms for looking for ‘talent’ from Russell Group universities that had high proportions of middle-class and privately educated students.
But Hobart said that data from such universities showed that entries were becoming increasingly diverse. It would be ‘unrealistic’, he said, for firms to visit all universities.
The Law Society also asserted that firms were embracing inclusive recruitment. Some 450 firms signed up to the Law Society’s charter on diversity and inclusion in 2014, almost double the number in 2013.
Max Harris, chair of the Society’s Junior Lawyers Division and associate at Baker & McKenzie, noted that firms were taking positive steps, but said they must heed the message that more needs to be done.
‘Firms must realise and accept that some of their recruitment processes are not as meritocratic as they believe them to be, and some may even be entirely unrelated to how an applicant will perform and progress in a career in law,’ he said.
Magic circle firm Allen & Overy said it is focusing on initiatives such as work experience schemes for students from non-privileged backgrounds.
‘Our focus has always been on getting the best people for the job. That is why we actively target around 50 universities to recruit each year,’ a spokesman said.