EDUCATED THE EXPENSIVE WAY:
LEGAL PROFESSION’S ELITISM GAP WIDENS
15% of lawyers are from the UK’s 250 public schools - compared to just
2% of the general population
Social exclusivity INCREASING in legal profession
Decline of grammar schools blamed
New figures from legal recruiter Laurence Simons show 15% of lawyers now come
from exclusive public schools that educate only 2% of the population.
Laurence Simons analysed the profiles of 49,600 professionals working in London
using the business-networking site LinkedIn. The analysis shows approximately
7,200 of those professionals have attended public schoolsi.
This makes those
educated at one of the country’s 250 public schools seven times more likely to
become legal professionals than those educated in the state sector.
PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION EDUCATED AT PUBLIC SCHOOL
Jason Horobin, director of Laurence Simons 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% 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 has been done to address the under-representation
of women and ethnic minority groups and we’re at least on the way to tackling
But the under-representation of those who can’t afford a silver-
plated education is getting worse, not better.”
THE LAW IS BECOMING MORE ELITIST THAN EVER
The situation is deteriorating as the legal profession becomes more elitist. While
the UK’s blue-chip law firms opened up to a generation of partners educated in
state secondary schools in the 1960s - predominantly in grammar schools - this
has proved to be a transient change. For instance, between 1988 and 2004, the
proportion of partners under 39 at the UK’s 5 Magic Circle firms who had been
educated in private schools increased from 59% to 71%ii.
The increasing reliance on those educated outside the state sector has shifted the
social composition of the legal profession.
In 1958, just over 40% of lawyers
grew up in families with an above average income. But 60% of British lawyers
who were born in 1970 grew up in families with an above average incomeiii.
REASONS BEHIND THE GROWING ELITISM IN THE LAW
The relative over-performance of public schools in the law is down to a number of
factors, one of which is the growing focus of recruiters on DEGREES. Today, only
one in four of the Times Top 100 Employers are willing to consider candidates
without degrees and none of these are in the legal sectoriv. Legal employers no
longer recruit non-graduates through the article route and this has limited
opportunities for non-graduates to compete for these jobs.
The consolidation of legal jobs in the South East and London also plays a part –
since poorer candidates are less able to afford to RELOCATE themselves to the
South-East and London, where average rental prices are 226% higher than the
national average and thus out of reach for those on a graduate salaryv.
But Laurence Simons says the demise of GRAMMAR SCHOOLS and the
prolonged decline in academic standards in the state sector has created the most
significant barrier to entry for those educated by the state. In the late 1980s –
when the last generation educated at the height of the grammar school were
entering work – 10% fewer barristers and 15% fewer solicitors were privately
educated than in the early 2000svi.
As grammar schools have declined, the academic standards achieved by those
educated within the state sector have deteriorated. In 1997, 83% of those who
achieved three A Levels came from state schools. But by 2007, only 70% came
from state education, despite state-educated pupils representing 93% of the
Jason Horobin said, “As far as a candidate’s prospects as a lawyer are concerned,
the ability of a student’s school to propel him or her into the best universities will
directly affect their employability later on. With 53% of Magic Circle solicitors and
82% of barristers having been educated at Oxbridge, there is a clear link between
competitiveness when entering higher education and the ability to achieve a legal
career after university. And you can’t get into Oxbridge if you can’t demonstrate
the highest level of academic achievement at school.”viii
The privately educated are also encouraged to engage with a litany of EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES which Russell Group universities consider a key part
in their selection processix, but which state education struggles to provide. Many
students struggle to develop the ‘soft skills’ of teamwork and leadership that
consistently impress providers of higher education. For instance, cadet forces are
not available to middle and lower income families. Of the 250 forces in the UK,
only 60 of these are open to students in state educationx.
The same opportunity gap applies to CULTURAL AND ARTISTIC ACTIVITIES.
While these are provided by public schools, those educated by the state system
are often forced to make do with the opportunities available in their local area.
Only 16% of British parents think that the current provision of cultural activities is
sufficient, while 71% think that there should be more access to these in their
State provision of CAREERS ADVICE also leaves pupils at a disadvantage.
According to The Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, in state schools,
talented young people are forced to rely on advice given by teachers with limited
knowledge of careers advice. Without a specialised careers team in each school,
as there are in public schools, pupils in the state sector find themselves unable to
access clear information and guidance about the qualifications and experience
required to succeed in the law. The Panel described provision of careers advice
as ‘simply not good enough’ and recommended ‘a radical rethink’xii of careers
services in the state sector.
Jason Horobin said, “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.”
Even having left school, students with less well-off parents continue to suffer.
46% of students from families who work in manual jobs state that without regular
part-time work, they would be unable to cover their costs of living. And almost
half of the students surveyed stated that they were engaged in part time work
that distracted them from their studiesxiii.
This lack of time for core academic
work stands in stark contrast with more affluent students who have time to
attend regular careers evenings at university and are able to travel around the
country filling their CV with UNPAID WORK EXPERIENCE that develops the
contacts and expertise that ultimately provides a cutting edge at interview.
Jason Horobin said, “In 1776, Adam Smith wrote of an ‘invisible hand’ at work in
With this metaphor, he described the almost mystical ability of the
market to meet people’s needs. To match what is possible with what is required.
Supply and demand. But the intellectual godfather of capitalism could not have
imagined the complexity of today’s jobs marketxv. He could not have anticipated
the ferocious competition or the migration of talent across continents.
In face of this complexity, markets – the job market included - have developed
their own responses.
New organisations have emerged to connect supply with
Where expertise is required; distances are too great; or information
incomplete, intermediaries like recruitment consultants play a role in solving
This shift to multi-layered markets has two important
implications: first recruitment consultants have become hugely important. They
mediate professional relationships, providing us with new opportunities, guiding
and shaping our choices.
And they tell us whom to hire.
Second, like all
markets, the employment market in which recruitment consultants operate can
be either efficient or inefficient. Fair or unfair. Able or unable to operate in the
public interest. Where Adam Smith had faith the markets would inevitably serve
in the public interest, today we are not so sure. Employers who take this issue
seriously should seek advice from expert recruiters.”
– ENDS –
NOTES TO EDITORS
Founded in 1988, Laurence Simons is a specialist legal recruitment consultancy. It is an
international organisation, operating across 14 cities and 4 continents and has recruited in
Laurence Simons covers the whole spectrum of permanent and temporary legal positions
in both the Private Practice and In–House markets from Newly Qualified through to Partner
and General Counsel level roles.
Adam Nicoll, Head of Marketing – FiveTen Group
020 7858 2030 and Adam.Nicoll@fivetengroup.com
James Staunton, Head of Recruitment PR – Wriglesworth PR
020 7427 1404 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Cartlidge, Account Executive – Wriglesworth PR
020 7427 1400 / email@example.com
There are approximately 250 public schools in the UK - independent secondary
schools (funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees and other nongovernmental funding) which are members of the Headmasters' and
Headmistresses' Conference. They teach approximately 2% of the British
The public schools represent approximately a tenth of the total 2,600 private or
independent schools in the UK, teaching 7% of the nation’s population.
Government-funded schools – referred to here as state schools provide education
free of charge to pupils and educate approximately 93% of the population.
The Sutton Trust - submission to the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions
Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, 2009, p20
Figures for October 2010 from the Residential Rental Prices Index
Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, 2009, p19
Department for Children, Schools and Families, GCSE and Equivalent Results in England
The Sutton Trust submission to the Milburn Commission on access to the professions
David Levin, Headmaster of the City of London school, addressing the Milburn
Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, 2009, p72
The Success Report 2004, The Learning and Skills Council
Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, 2009, p75
From a 2008 poll conducted by the NUS and HSBC, November 2008
Adam Smith, the Wealth of Nations (London, Oxford University Press, 1988)
For an account of how markets have become more complex over time, see ED
Beinhocker, The Origins of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical
Remaking of Economic (London: Random House, 2006)