There aren’t many feelgood stories in the law, but the Prime initiative is definitely one of them.
David Morley’s brainchild of a collaborative approach towards social mobility (The Lawyer, 4 April) has been taken up by a total of 23 firms with huge enthusiasm.
It’s not hard to see why. Social mobility - or class, as some of us fuddy-duddies still prefer to call it - evokes a narrative of redemption that taps into the treasured legal market ideal of hard work and meritocracy. Oddly, I can count on the fingers of one hand the partners I’ve met who’ve sent their own children to state schools, but there’s no denying the direct emotional response on the part of a number of lawyers involved in the scheme. It’s not just about identifying with individual stories, although that’s part of it. The idea of being involved in a practical part-solution to the problems of socio-economic deprivation is undeniably attractive.
The Lawyer has been banging on about class for years. Six years ago, at one of our HR conferences, Morley’s predecessor Guy Beringer belligerently dismissed the notion of class as utterly irrelevant. How times have changed.
For the record, we think Prime is great. No question. But as with all great new ideas, it’s only just begun to scratch the surface. These school students have to battle not just economic disadvantage, but also work on their social and cultural capital, which is where mentoring comes in. What’s more, just as these school students start to aspire, just as they start to read Robert Peston’s blogs, join debating teams and get good GCSEs and A-levels, then the goalposts will almost certainly be moved. All of a sudden the key non-legal attribute to get ahead in a globalised legal profession will be the ability to speak Mandarin, say. And that is almost entirely the preserve of the private schools.
Two final thoughts for firms committed to social mobility. Really, stop obsessing about Oxbridge - not all the best lawyers come from there. Oxbridge is a just a helpful way of measuring who was on top form at the age of 18 (which is where private education happens to pay off). Second, start monitoring your trainee intake, as the Milburn report urged two years ago. The excuses are wearing thin.