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Social Mobility: too little, too late?

Social Mobility: too little, too late?

“Get them earlier”. Only route to equal opportunities in the legal profession says DMJ Recruitment

According to a recent panel discussion - made up of some of the UKs most senior General Counsel, barristers, private practice partners, and educational experts - the legal profession simply isn’t doing enough to help those from disadvantaged and socially diverse backgrounds obtain access to the profession. Despite advances being made to promote access by candidates from less traditional backgrounds the consensus amongst participants appears to be that the profession must do more to reach out to youngsters for whom law might not be within their sphere of reference in order for real, meaningful changes to happen. This is the view of a recent panel Social Mobility: Too Little, Too Late? organised by specialist legal consultancy, DMJ Recruitment.

The roundtable discussion – hosted in partnership with leading international law firm King & Spalding – including experts from organisations such as RBS Group, National Grid plc, Summerswood Ltd, Albany School and Pump Court Chambers, all agreed that the only way to make sustainable changes to the profession was to target children earlier during their education. However the panel of experts were split when it came to establishing what exact age is best explains Justin Kopelowitz, a director at DMJ.

“It’s no secret that my personal view on the pledges made by some firms about increasing their diversity initiatives is often cosmetic. However our panel suggests that things are beginning to move in the right direction, with all participants already working in the community to target those from disadvantaged and socially diverse backgrounds. Yet our panel of experts were unable to agree on what stage of a child’s education was best. Some favoured early intervention but others believe that approaching children during their GCSEs is sufficient so long as they have had the notion of self belief instilled during their primary years”.

Whatever the age of intervention, it is clear that the panel concurs that action is not only needed, but vital if the profession, in years to come, becomes truly reflective of the diverse nature of the UK and the clients it serves. Suzanne Rab - a partner at King & Spalding’s Antitrust practice - who moderated the panel, raised an interesting point about whether the profession could be incentivised to become more diversified if social mobility issues were an inherent part of a client’s selection and retention process:

“Perhaps one factor that could contribute to eroding this culture would be if a firm’s social mobility policies and practices were more prominent when clients were seeking to establish a law firm’s credentials when making hiring decisions. We are increasingly asked in RFPs about our track record on CSR and diversity in other areas such as gender representation, so already such issues can be a competitive differentiator. Ultimately, if firms can prove that having a socially diverse workforce can increase revenues and the firm’s performance this can only contribute to elevating this issue among the more sceptical”.

Phil Walker, CEO of Summerswood Ltd, and CEO of Capgemini, who gave the key note address concluded that all professions ought to be taking the notion of social mobility much more seriously for several reasons, but perhaps an important one is for macroeconomic objectives:

“There are huge economic forces that will shape business in general and the legal profession in particular. The economic rise of women, the power and influence of the BRIC economies, and the disruptive influence of “big data” to name three. None of the trends can be adequately addressed without taking on board social mobility and diversity”.

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