Magic circle moots joint social mobility strategy

Top firms will work together to widen access to the law

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn

A group of senior magic circle partners last month convened a high-level summit aimed at addressing potential social mobility issues across the entire legal profession due to upcoming university fee hikes, The Lawyer can reveal.

The exploratory meeting, held at Allen & Overy’s Bishops Square headquarters, was chaired by the firm’s senior partner David Morley and was attended by senior partners from Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

Items on the agenda included the creation of a work experience scheme aimed at A-level students and ways to encourage young people from non-traditional backgrounds to consider support roles ­within law firms. Existing work experience schemes run by major firms are typically open only to penultimate-year degree students.

One source said: “There was a massive willingness to get together on this subject and there’s a real will to do this; no one had to be corralled into coming and people could see straight away that it makes sense to work together.

“The driver behind it was that many firms are already working on social mobility initiatives independently, and some people started thinking that it would be better for the profession to take the lead and agree that, if we did work together, then we could have a much bigger impact.”

A further meeting has been planned with the aim of opening up the debate to other firms. The eventual plan is to combine forces with organisations outside the law, including those in the not-for-profit sector.

The Coalition’s social mobility tsar Alan Milburn singled out the law in his much-publicised 2009 report on social mobility as a profession that is dominated by those from privileged backgrounds. As a result a number of schemes have sprung up aimed at increasing diversity in the sector.

If this initiative gets off the ground it will be the first time that law firms have worked together to widen access.

The cap on university tuition fees will be lifted in 2012, with many of the UK’s top institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, expected to charge £9,000 per year.