Aiding and abetting
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The great and the good of the legal world have over the years accepted that their profession is not as diverse as it should be. Those from lower-income backgrounds, and particularly those from ethnic minorities, are under-represented in both the solicitors and barristers professions. Recent research by educational charity the Sutton Trust found that three out of four judges, more than two-thirds of barristers and more than half the partners at the leading law firms had been educated at private schools, despite them accounting for just 7 per of the school population.
Positive discrimination in the form of quotas has been viewed as a step too far by the UK legal professional and there is a feeling among many applicants from non-traditional backgrounds that they want their places on merit and not because of special treatment.
But whether it is private tuition ahead of key exams, grooming and advice on university choice and subsequent interviews, or work placements with well-placed friends of the family, the advantages sometimes enjoyed by those from privileged backgrounds and families with histories of participating in higher education mean that, when it comes to securing training contracts or pupillages, the situation is far from a level playing field.
As a result, a raft of schemes aimed at increasing diversity have sprung up with the backing of firms and barristers chambers, which say they are eager to encourage talent from non-traditional backgrounds. Cynics would add that much of this activity is done to make them look good in their corporate social responsibility brochures and that their clients are increasingly demanding action on diversity so they have to act anyway.
But whatever the case may be, if you are eligible, these schemes offering everything from one-day events to mentoring programmes can be a great way of giving your CV the edge in what is a highly competitive recruitment arena. Unfortunately it is not always easy to find information on them, but Lawyer2B.com has done some of the legwork for you and below are some schemes worth investigating further.
Pathways to Law
This is one of the most ambitious schemes to date aimed at widening participation. Run by the College of Law and the Sutton Trust, the 1.5m programme aims to assist 750 non-privileged students a year by 2010.
The programme is designed to attract students from state schools who would be the first in their family to attend university and whose parents are in non-professional occupations. So schools with a higher than average proportion of children on free school meals and very little history of sending young people to higher education will be signed up.
It starts by targeting eligible students from 15-16 years old who have expressed an interest in a career in law and aims to support them up until they go off to university. The scheme, which starts in September 2007, will offer selected students careers advice and guidance on university applications; it will provide mentoring and introduce them to contacts in the legal world leading to work experience and placements. The universities of Leeds, Manchester, Southampton, Warwick and the London School of Economics (LSE) are partners.
Social Mobility Foundation placements
The Social Mobility Foundation is a charity that organises placements at a number of professional organisations, including law firms and chambers. Supporters include the Crown Prosecution Service, Hardwicke Building and 39 Essex Street, plus law firms such as Clifford Chance, Denton Wilde Sapte and Herbert Smith.
The foundation selects students by asking schools and further education colleges to nominate their top-achieving students aged 16-18 and believed by their teachers to come from low-income families.
In an incredibly helpful move, the charity holds a one-day pre-internship workshop where students are taught presentation skills as well as the type of conduct expected of them in a professional environment before taking up their placements.
Those coming through the projects will have the opportunity to be linked to mentors from one of the firms with which the foundation is affiliated once they turn 18.
Later this month 27 students will spend a working week visiting sets of chambers and will be given the chance to gain first-hand experience of barristers at work as part of a link-up with the Bar Council. During the placement week students will receive an introduction to the Inns of Court, shadow an experienced barrister and spend a day observing a trial in a crown court with an opportunity to speak to a judge.
Black Solicitors Network
The Black Solicitors Network (BSN) offers a range of activities to ethnic minority students interested in a career in law.
Three times a year it holds a workshop packed with speakers and sessions where they can gain feedback on how to improve their CVs followed by a chance to network with the host firm, BSN members, fellow students and solicitors. It has held two workshops at Baker & McKenzies offices, with the next one taking place in October 2007 at SJ Berwin.
A mentoring scheme has matched at least 15 mentees to mentors and the BSN hopes to expand this in the future. It has arranged a number of work placements in firms such as Simmons & Simmons and Taylor Wessing.
Students interested in the work placement scheme should send a CV and covering letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. For other enquiries see the website.
Reach Diversity Mentoring Programme
This is a mentoring scheme run by the Career Group, University of London and Kings College, which match disadvantaged students attending London universities to mentors so they can get advice from someone in the profession they want to join, develop their skills and build their confidence.
The scheme is aimed at students who for reasons of nationality, ethnicity, disability, age, background or any other reason may encounter difficulties in building networks.
Allen & Overy is a notable law firm supporter and currently contributes 47 mentors.
Pure Potential is an independent organisation that aims to help bright state school and further education students apply for competitive university courses and find out more about careers such as law. There is a healthy amount of places up for grabs last year more than 10,000 students attended one of the Pure Potential events. It has 12 law firm partners, including Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Norton Rose. This year it is holding a series of summer events at Manchester, Southampton, Newcastle, Aston and Leeds universities and the LSE. Next week Pure Potential rolls into Imperial College, so watch out for Lawyer 2B. Students interested in attending an event should apply online.
Addleshaw Goddard summer placement
Attending a summer placement is a useful exercise for wannabe lawyers, but like most other aspects of the legal recruitment process it is incredibly difficult to win a place.
To increase access to the profession, national firm Addleshaw Goddard this year offered six places on its summer placement scheme to students without training contracts who, due to their non-traditional educational backgrounds and qualifications, would find it difficult to gain places though the usual route. The scheme was open to students at BPP Law School studying the GDL or LPC and, after the success of this year, the firm plans to make further places available next year.
Legal Eagles is a free London-based event aimed at ethnic minority sixth form students interested in a career in law. The day, which is held at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, includes lectures on how to get into law and explanations of both the solicitor and barrister professions. Students in attendance also get the chance to look at a contract, construct a case and try out their negotiation skills. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Lovells are among the law firms involved.
Target Chances: City Law for Ethnic Minorities
This is an annual mini-internship open to 200 ethnic minority students in the first year of a law degree or the second year of a non-law degree. During the course of a day students are given a taster of life at a City law firm, gaining insight from trainees and senior lawyers.
To apply students must be in either the first year of a law degree or the second year of a non-law degree, studying at university in the UK or Ireland with a demonstrably high level of academic achievement.
This years events have already taken place, but the organisers are set to run some more next year.