Caste analysis

Of all the excellent conferences we put on, I reckon our careers days for state school sixth-formers is the most important by far.

The Lawyer’s sister title Lawyer 2B has run the two-day event for the past four years, giving hundreds of students a precious insight into a legal career. (You can find out more on today’s back page.)

But just as social class has finally made it onto firms’ diversity radars, along comes the news that the top universities will be charging fees at top whack. If the idea of nine grand a year scares the bejesus out of middle-class parents, imagine how the notion of racking up that level of debt is viewed by families with little ­experience of higher education. So if law firms are serious about social inclusion they’re going to have to devise new strategies.

It shouldn’t just up be to the firms, of course. Legal Services Board chairman Dave Edmonds argued in his Upjohn lecture last November that we need to see the total length of time spent in ­education – and thus the total amount of debt – shrink. Hear, hear. In an editorial 18 months ago (The Lawyer, 31 August 2009) I argued that, in this context, the accountancy model seems attractive. Rather than having a year of classroom study and two years of a training contract, why not three years of mixed earning and learning?

In truth, initiatives are always going to come from the private sector. In January KPMG became the latest sponsor of a university degree after announcing it would fund 75 students at Durham University who will start a six-year programme with the firm, leading to a BSc in accounting as well as a chartered accountancy qualification. While studying, undergraduates will divide their time between the university’s business school and ­working for the firm. Tellingly, KPMG said that in future school-leaver schemes could account for a majority of its annual trainee intake.

Judging from the fears expressed by state school sixth-formers at the Lawyer 2B day about debt and a legal career, any law firm that went down the KPMG route would be inundated with quality applicants. Unfortunately, if a law firm went down that route it would constitute a revolution. And we can’t be having that, can we?;