Outlining the Law Society of England and Wales’ mentoring programme, helping to address equality and diversity obstacles in the legal profession.

The Law Society of England and Wales has identified the need for a toolkit on fair recruitment, with data showing that 28.6 per cent of solicitors attended independent or public schools compared to around 7 per cent of the general population of England and Wales. There is also evidence to suggest that larger firms often recruit from a small pool of talent, focusing on Russell Group universities accounting for 20 out of more than 115 universities across England and Wales. These universities tend to have the lowest proportion of disadvantaged students and the highest levels of privately educated students.

This evidence suggests that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may face multiple barriers to the profession.

What is blind recruitment?

In its ‘Elitist Britain’ report, The Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission made recommendations to employers on improving social mobility, one of which is to use school and university blind applications.

Such applications usually omit the type of school attended and the name of the university attended, but may also omit A-level grades and even the applicant’s name. Essentially any information that an organisation feels might bias recruiters may be withheld. The idea is that such recruitment practices, particularly in the legal sector, may encourage more effective assessment methods, rather than relying on information such as university rankings as an indicator of a candidate’s potential as a trainee solicitor.

Why consider blind recruitment?

Despite receiving praise from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Chair, Alan Milburn, on its efforts to improve social mobility, statistics demonstrate that the legal profession must do more to achieve a more balanced membership.

Research by The Sutton Trust shows that children with professional parents are three times more likely to go to a Russell Group university than those with working class parents, whilst according to another report 78 per cent of partners at Magic and Silver Circle firms attended a Russell Group university.

It seems that family and academic background can still have a very real impact on a candidate’s chances of accessing the legal profession. Barriers can be academic, financial or social - or a mixture. Implementing elements of blind recruitment may help to reduce the disparity between candidates from different socio-economic backgrounds, removing any bias (conscious or otherwise) harboured by recruiters and paying less heed to factors such as the university attended and grades achieved at school.

It is hoped that blind recruitment could play a useful role in encouraging social diversity in the profession, in line with the government’s stated aspiration for a ‘One Nation Society’ where ‘your progress in life - the job you do, the income you earn, the lifestyle you enjoy – depends on your aptitude and ability, not your background or your birth’.