The profession is still unwilling to recruit non-Russell Group university graduates, in marked contrast to other sectors, according to new research.
The new Social Mobility Foundation index reveals the top 75 UK employers who have taken the most action on social mobility.
However, while 84% of the legal sector’s graduate intake came from a Russell Group university, just 66% of applicants came from those institutions.
The index ranks employers on what they are doing to access and progress talent from all backgrounds.
The top 75 UK firm index is dominated by law firms (36%) with four making the top 10 – Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Browne Jacobson, Herbert Smith Freehills and Baker Mckenzie.
Accountancy giant PwC took the top ranking.
The top 75 also features Pinsent Masons at number 30, Shoosmiths (38), Freeths (51), Lewis Silkin ((59) and Macfarlanes (67).
However, the index showed that though the profession is the most represented sector, there is a collective “unwillingness” to recruit outside of Russell Group universities.
This, says the report, is in contrast to an overall trend of businesses increasingly visiting and recruiting from other universities.
Since the index was launched in 2017, the legal sector has consistently been among the top most represented sectors, along with professional services, financial services and public sector organisations have consistently been the most represented sectors.
Yet as the report states, “it is clear that high representation does not equate to rapid improvement”.
“More must be done”, said the chair of the Social Mobility Foundation Alan Milburn.
He added: “It is welcome that more and more UK businesses are stepping up to the social mobility plate.
“Their efforts are changing lives for tens of thousands of our country’s young people… It is incumbent on government and business to ensure that young people are not its social and economic victims.”
Caroline Green, senior partner at Browne Jacobson - ranked no 5 - said: “To achieve a top five position nationally in only the second year we have been assessed is incredible and testament to everyone who has contributed to our journey to be more inclusive as a business.
“As a national powerhouse we don’t just want to be recognised for our legal expertise; improving equality, diversity and inclusion lie at the heart of our ethos as a business and social mobility is central to this.”
She said that this year the firm retained over 90% of its newly qualified lawyers, “proving law firms can still attract and recruit exceptional legal talent by removing traditional academic thresholds and in doing so improve career opportunities for those that need it most”.
“As a business we have never rested on our laurels and will use this platform to advocate for social mobility, implementing new approaches that challenge others in both the legal sector and beyond, to do more over the next 12 months”, she added.
Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: ““We are pleased to see so many law firms in the top 75 employers in the Social Mobility Foundation’s employer index.”
“For our profession to thrive, we need talented individuals from diverse backgrounds.
“The law offers a highly rewarding career path and any aspiring solicitor should be able to access and progress in the profession – regardless of their socio-economic background.”