Proportion of lawyers educated at public school far outstrips national average

The legal profession has become increasingly elitist over the past 20 years, with 15 per cent of lawyers being public school educated while just 2 per cent of the population is.

According to research from recruitment consultants Laurence Simons, the proportion of magic circle partners aged under 39 who were educated at public schools rose from  59 per cent to 71 per cent between 1988 and 2004.

The study highlights several reasons behind the growing elitism of the legal profession, including the unwillingness of firms to consider applications from non-graduates and the concentration of jobs in London and the South East. It claims the biggest driver is the demise of grammar schools and the “prolonged decline in academic standards in the state sector”.

Laurence Simons director Jason Horobin said: “The figures paint a disturbingly regressive picture of the opportunities open to those wishing to get into law.  Social exclusivity is rife in the industry.

“The fact that 15 per cent of people in the sector attended one of just 250 of the nation’s most exclusive schools shows this is a real policy blind spot – a lot’s been done to address the under-representation of women and ethnic minority groups and we’re at least on the way to tackling those issues. 

“But the under-representation of those who can’t afford a silver-plated education is getting worse, not better.”

Horobin also blames states schools’ lack of focus on soft skills such as leadership and teamwork, as well as extra-curricular activities and careers advice.

Horobin added: “This doesn’t appear to be a case of wanton snobbery on behalf of legal employers – in many ways Britain’s blue-chip legal employers are simply reacting to the decline of state education. The overwhelming conclusion must be that if your children aspire to a successful legal career and you are choosing them a school, it pays to pay.”

Laurence Simons analysed the profiles of 49,600 lawyers on the business-networking website LinkedIn, which revealed a total of 7,200 had attended public school.

Earlier this month The Lawyer reported that Addleshaw Goddard had begun collecting information on the social background of graduate applicants (8 November 2010). Herbert Smith has also has begun asking graduates whether they were educated in the private or state system