Leading law firms have been named among the top 75 UK employers for social mobility in 2020 and make up more than a third (36%) of the organisations on the list.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (2nd), Browne Jacobson (5th), Herbert Smith Freehills (7th) and Baker McKenzie (10th) were recognised as top 10 firms in the Social Mobility Employer Index 2020, which is published by the Social Mobility Foundation.
Linklaters made it to number 11, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hogan Lovells International ranked 19th and 20th respectively.
Browne Jacobson rose from 82nd place last year to 5th in 2020 and was celebrated for its partnership with the National Literacy Trust, which sees it support schools in deprived areas where a high proportion of pupils are eligible for free school meals.
It has also removed academic grades from its trainee recruitment programme, anonymised CVs to remove the possibility of unconscious bias and runs a mentoring programme for higher education students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Caroline Green, senior partner at Browne Jacobson, 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.
“A few years ago, we took a bold decision to remove minimum entry requirements for our lawyer trainee programme. For us this has been a game changer.
“This year we retained over 90 per cent of our 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.”
Herbert Smith Freehills has been ranked 7th, rising from 19th place last year. It has supported more than 400 young people through work experience and employability programmes in London and Belfast and improves access to the profession through its Aspiring Solicitors programme and open days for students from low income backgrounds.
Executive partner Alison Brown said: “Climbing the rankings, as we have done this year, is a fantastic acknowledgement of the progress made to date – but there remains more to do. Social mobility continues to be a strategic priority for us and we look forward to continuing to work with partners and clients to make a real difference.”
Linklaters, which narrowly missed being ranked in the top 10, has been featured in the Index every year since it began in 2017.
This year it launched a free virtual internship for candidates from all backgrounds, which achieved 18,000 enrolments. Other initiatives included the introduction of a “contextual recruitment system”, a reverse mentoring scheme and a Scholars Programme supporting talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Nathalie Hobbs, Linklaters’ regional managing partner, Asia, and executive champion for social mobility, said: “We are extremely proud of the progress we have made thus far to promote social mobility across our global offices.
“However, it is important to recognise that there is still much more work to be done. We remain resolute in our commitment to increasing the social diversity of our firm and ensuring that a career in law is open to all, regardless of an individual’s background.”
The Social Mobility Foundation, however, suggested that firms could still do more to drive social mobility in the legal profession.
Its report accompanying the index claims there is an “unwillingness” to recruit outside of Russell Group universities. Graduates from these institutions representing 84% of legal firms’ graduate intake this year, despite only 66% of applicants coming from Russell Group universities.
“In future years this should be addressed to ensure that students with high potential are not overlooked just because they do not attend a RG university,” the report [https://www.socialmobility.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Social-Mobility-Employer-Index-2020.pdf] says.
Sarah Atkinson, Social Mobility Foundation chief executive, said: “Now more than ever, business must commit to supporting opportunities for young people. We urge those sectors not represented in this year’s Index to make a public commitment to supporting social mobility in 2021 by joining the ranks of those employers who are already making such a difference to young people’s life chances”.