Top UK law firms unite to launch social mobility scheme

First profession-wide work experience scheme unveiled as 23 top firms sign up

David Morley
David Morley

A group of top UK law firms has formed to launch the profession’s first-ever collective undertaking to provide quality work experience for state school students.

Launched on Saturday 10th September, Prime requires its 23 member firms to provide work experience that totals at least 30-35 hours, and to commit to maintaining contact after work experience has ended.

Firms must also offer work experience places that total no fewer than 50 per cent of the annual training contracts given each year, as well as provide financial help during the programme.

The participants are: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Arthur Cox, Ashurst, Blake Lapthorn, Brodies, Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna, Dickinson Dees, DLA Piper, Dundas & Wilson, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Maclay, Murray & Spens, McGrigors, Norton Rose, Pinsent Masons, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Slaughter and May and Trowers & Hamlins.

Earlier this year, The Lawyer revealed that Allen & Overy (A&O) senior partner David Morley had convened a handful of top City law firms to formulate a joint social mobility strategy (4 April 2011).

Morley told The Lawyer: “There are two key elements: one, what do we mean by quality work experience, and two, who are the target group of kids we focus on? We want to approach every firm in the UK. We have the support of the all three Law Societies and the government on this.”

The scheme has garnered the support of former MP for Darlington Alan Milburn, the chair of the governmental commission on social mobility, the Panel on Fair Access to the Prefessions, which produced a report in July 2009

Milburn said in a statement: “The lack of social mobility in our society is not a problem that can be solved by any one organisation or any one sector. Sections of our society who play a part in the problem, and who have a stake in finding a solution, need to take collective responsibility and work together to provide meaningful solutions.

“The legal profession is a great example. If the cycle of unequal distribution of opportunity is to be broken, and the most talented people from all backgrounds are to be given a fair chance, the sector needs to act. And through the Prime programme this is what it is doing.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of The Sutton Trust, added: “We know that non-privileged young people have great difficulty in getting work placements that give them that vital first experience of the professions. I’m pleased to see that PRIME identifies and supports these young people, including those on free school meals and who have no family history of going to university.”

A study commissioned for The Lawyer (2 February 2009) and carried out by Bristol University-based Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), found that lawyers are more likely to come from a privileged background than any other profession and that the gap has increased during the past decade.

For an in-depth look at the Prime scheme, click here.