Tomorrow is a big day for nine major City firms, which are going to be signing something called the Diversity In Law Statement of Intent. Some big guns will be attending: Tony Angel of Linklaters and Mike Francies of Weil Gotshal, to name but two. (As an aside, it’s interesting A&O is going to be there, given that it apparently doesn’t have a clue about which universities its UK partners went to. Pull the other one, chaps.)
The statement they’re all signing is this: “We are committed to fostering diversity in the UK legal profession. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, nationality, age, disability and marital and parental status.” Entirely laudable, but there’s one thing missing from this list. Read it again and see.
Still foxed? What’s missing is the biggest social factor of all: class. Class is still what determines how far you get in the law. Oxford and Cambridge – favoured recruiting grounds for City firms – have 51.7 and 54 per cent private school intake respectively. Luton University, on the other hand, has 1 per cent. An Asian girl at North London Collegiate School is simply not in the same category as a Bangladeshi student from Bethnal Green – or indeed, a white, working class lad from Barking, if it comes to that. I’ve heard plenty of lawyers say that law is a meritocracy, but they’re usually the same lawyers who are paying for the best schooling to get their children into the best universities.
Luckily, the organisation behind the scheme understands this very well. Global Graduates is one of the most impressive outfits in the legal education sector, and its founder, Yolande Beckles, is a charismatic and articulate advocate of diversity – and not in any dreary, politically correct way either.
One of the biggest problems diversity activists have had is convincing organisations that it’s not about putting black faces in brochures, but addressing fundamental educational gaps. The other problem with diversity policy is not the substance, but the language, which always sounds like so much guff. It’s only when you speak to people who are actually doing practical things that it makes sense.
Global Graduates has spent five years mentoring students from comprehensives and has identified vacation placements as one of the battlegrounds. It’s just got to the stage where three of its mentored students now have training contracts – one with a City firm, one with a regional firm and one with a high street practice. This is proper, practical, important work. It deserves support.