Posted | Matthew Simmons
Posted | Matthew Simmons
Diversity and Inclusion has risen to the top of the agenda for many law firms and financial services firms over the past few years. In particular, following the Black Lives Matter protests, there has been a number of initiatives within the legal profession to attract and retain black and ethnic minority talent, as well as ongoing efforts to improve the number of female partners in law firms. These initiatives are admirable and to be applauded. However, social mobility and attracting and retaining talent from low socio-economic backgrounds, has been less of a priority. It is not without reason that it is sometimes referred to as the forgotten dimension of diversity.
Social mobility is a measure of how free people are to move between social classes. Improving social mobility in the legal profession specifically refers to recruiting and retaining talent from lower socio-economic backgrounds, which can be identified by a number of key indicators such as: (1) is an individual the first generation from their family to go to university? (2) was that individual educated at a non-selective state school? (3) was that individual eligible for free school meals at school?
So how does the legal profession and financial services perform in this regard? Ten leading city law firms collaborated with the Bridge Group to understand whether and how socio-economic background affects progression to partner. Focusing on schooling, they identified that 53% of partners attended independent school and the talent pipeline suggests that limited progress will be made over time; the figure is 47% for the wider employee population of associates and senior associates. These figures are higher than professionals across other sectors analysed (39%). A similar report was conducted by the Bridge Group with leading financial services firms. The research found that 9 in 10 senior roles in financial services are held by people from higher socio-economic backgrounds (as defined by parental occupation at 14). This compares with a third of the UK working population as a whole.
Reports such as these reinforce the perception – and indicate a reality – that the legal profession and financial services are an elitist profession. Many socially mobile students with no contacts within the legal profession do not apply to law firms because of the perception that they will not fit in or that it is not for them. Organisations like Aspiring Solicitors (https://www.aspiringsolicitors.co.uk/) are doing excellent work in trying to change this, providing aspiring solicitors from diverse backgrounds with coaching, mentoring and access to city lawyers to change this perception and to tool them with the skills needed to be successful candidates. Law firms are also trying to instill diverse and inclusive cultures to retain such talent so that people from such backgrounds can be themselves. There will be many of you reading this who have felt they have had to change the way they speak, dress or act within the workplace in order to progress. This should not have to be the case.
The other barrier to socially mobile students is financial. The financial barriers to the legal profession are high and are higher than they ever have been; university fees; law school fees; the increased cost of travel and living. This is only getting worse with the impact of Covid-19, which has disproportionately impacted those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The barriers have been raised even further and it is even harder to break them down.
That is why I am proud that Simmons & Hanbury is a founding member of The Aspiring Solicitors Foundation (ASF), along with firms such as Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Barclays, Mayer Brown and XTX Markets (https://www.theasf.org.uk/supporters/). We are also proud that a NED of Hanbury Partners, Sunil Samani, is a trustee of the ASF.
The ASF is a charity focused on social mobility in the legal profession, providing financial assistance by way of grants such as textbooks, professional clothing, laptops and law school scholarships to aspiring solicitors from low socio-economic backgrounds. Their objective is to remove financial barriers to the legal profession. The number of applicants they have had over the last year is rising due directly to the impact of Covid-19 and it is rising; so is their need for donations for them to meet their objective.
If your firm is interested in becoming a supporter or would like to learn more about the charity, then please let me know. You can also donate personally at https://www.theasf.org.uk/donate/.
No one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by their financial circumstances; donating to the ASF will help remove those barriers and help aspiring solicitors from lower socio economic backgrounds achieve their full potential.
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