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Firms are missing a trick by focusing diversity schemes mainly on university students rather than A-level pupils.
It is not every day you hear students ask for extra work. It is probably even rarer to hear them request to retake an exam they have already passed, just so they can aim for a higher grade.
This, however, is exactly what happened to Susan Bannochie, head of law and legal studies at Eastbrook Comprehensive School, when her class returned from a careers day that was organised by Lawyer 2B and held at BPP Law School.
“My pupils aren’t stupid. They’re streetwise. Some come from very hard backgrounds and they aren’t misled by well-spoken people in suits,” she explains.
Bannochie insists that the group of 10 students she took along to the careers day really appreciated the many partners, students and trainees who took the time to speak to them honestly about what it takes to achieve a career in law.
“They were told about the high academic standards that would be needed and the tough competition they would face,” she says. “I was so surprised when they came back to school and asked to retake the exams they’d just taken so they could aim for higher grades.”
Most law firms say they want to attract a more diverse body of trainees from outside the traditional talent pools, but the majority of diversity programmes still focus primarily on attracting university students.
The problem with this is that, by the time firms come into contact with undergraduates, a raft of potentially promising future lawyers will already have been cut out of the equation. And this is where Lawyer 2B comes in.
For the third year running, Lawyer 2B put on a careers day for first-year A-level students taking part in the Government’s Gifted & Talented and Aim Higher programmes, which, through workshops and mentoring schemes, aim to encourage bright students to apply for university.
“Law is a very interesting profession, but it’s not very real for kids,” argues Bannochie. “At the careers day, they got to meet BPP students as well as trainees and partners, who really made an impact on the way they view the profession.”
But she admits that actually securing a job in the legal sector will be a tough challenge because, not only do students have to overcome barriers of cost and lack of careers advice and support, but they also have to contend with feelings of insecurity.
“There’s a supreme lack of confidence among many students because they don’t believe they can achieve,” she says. “At school they may not have proper internet facilities, and they have to use tatty and sometimes out-of-date books.
So students really see law as a profession for the upper classes.”
But Bannochie insists that events such as the Lawyer 2B careers day help to give the students their confidence back.
Over two days from 9 March more than 250 students descended on BPP’s new Business School, located in the City, adjacent to Norman Foster’s iconic ’Gherkin’ building.
Some of the top law firms, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May, were on hand to guide the students through a range of practical topics, including the structure of the legal profession and how to make a successful application to law school.
Deborah Dalgleish, who is head of diversity and inclusion at Freshfields, gave a presentation at the event and says it is important to arm promising students with the knowledge they need to enter the profession before they even consider applying for university.
“It can often be the case that students from non-traditional backgrounds don’t have the contacts and insights at home or at school that would smooth the path to finding work experience placements or choosing the right university course,” she contends.
“For those students, the sort of assistance offered by events such as the Lawyer 2B Year 12 careers day can be crucial in indicating useful sources of information as well as clarifying the key issues that need to be thought through before decisions are made about a career in the legal profession.”