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Magic and Silver Circle partnerships dominated by Oxbridge graduates

Legal profession remains unconvinced that apprenticeships will improve social mobility

11 April 2016

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Almost half of Magic and Silver Circle partners are Oxbridge educated, according to new research.

Of over 1,100 partners surveyed, 44 per cent were found to have studied at either Oxford or Cambridge universities.

The research from Laurence Simons, the legal and compliance recruiter, also found that Oxford is slightly better represented than Cambridge among top law firms.

The dark blues of Oxford came out ahead with 24 per cent of partners, while the light blues of Cambridge accounted for 20 per cent of elite partners in the UK.

With just 1.8 per cent of the UK's student population of 2,266,075 studying at either Oxford or Cambridge, the fact that Oxbridge produces more than two-fifths of Magic and Silver Circle partners raises further concerns for diversity in the legal profession.

Published in 2015, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission annual report was highly critical of both universities for failing to increase the number of state school pupils studying at their colleges.

Critics warn that, in taking higher numbers of Oxbridge graduates, elite London firms are not increasing the diversity of their workforces at the highest levels and are missing out on the benefits that diversity can bring.

Andrew Wintle, principal consultant at Laurence Simons, commented: 'Organisational diversity is crucial as it allows firms to adapt and change in a fast-paced environment and also to grow and prosper.

'The legal industry is taking on a number of challenges at the moment, including new competition from the Big Four and the need to innovate around complex issues for clients, and the industry must be suitably equipped with an able workforce with lots of fresh ideas to meet the challenge.'

Wintle continued: 'Law firms are visibly seeking to improve diversity and it is important to note that solicitors usually take upwards of a decade to reach partner level - meaning that the true effect of diversity programmes on partnership representation may yet be felt.'

The research also found that one in three partners at elite firms attended one of the 22 other Russell Group universities.

This means that just 22 per cent of partners at leading firms attended one of the 95 universities outside of these prestigious schools, or studied overseas.

However, not all Russell Group institutions seem to be created equally. Findings show a significant disparity between how well alumni from such universities are represented among Magic and Silver Circle firms.

Some 44 per cent of all Russell Group-educated partners attended one of either the universities of Bristol, King's College London, Durham, and Nottingham.

At the other end of the scale, Newcastle, Liverpool, Cardiff, Queen's Belfast, and Queen Mary universities were each attended by just 1 per cent of partners.

September 2016 will see the government introduce new apprenticeship standards for solicitors. However, lawyers remain doubtful that the scheme will increase social mobility in the profession.

Just 42 per cent of lawyers believe the apprenticeships will improve access to the industry, while one-third was unsure how effective they would be.

Twenty-five per cent felt the apprenticeships would do little to boost the prospects of those from less advantaged backgrounds.

'People with top grades from the best universities do not always make the best lawyers and they must be equipped with a range of soft skills in order to practice at the highest levels,' said Wintle.

'The new apprenticeship route will allow A-grade talent to shine, when it might not otherwise have done so.'

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