Cricket, rugby and skiing? Do I have the right cultural capital for a law career?
Choosing a career can be daunting, especially as we need to make decisions on things where we often have little direct experience. If you’re like me, you don’t come from a professional background. My dad was an electrician, for example. As a family, we don’t have lawyers, accountants or doctors as family friends. So where does that leave people like us when it comes to the legal profession?
Diversity is high up on the agenda in the legal profession, and rightly so. Firms would like their firm to reflect the society where they operate, which means they want a mixture of people working at the firm from a range of backgrounds. That hasn’t been the case traditionally and firms have been working hard to change this, making significant progress of the past few years.
A lot of diversity in the legal profession is focused on BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic), gender (not so much at trainee level but in the higher echelons of firms) and LGBTQ+. Social mobility is another strand of diversity.
What do we mean by social mobility?
Society has been divided up by anthropologists into a range of socio-economic groups from A-E. This is based on a range of factors, with the type of work you do, or your parents do, as the most important, as this also influences where you live, what school you go to and what you do with your spare time.
Where you start on that strata can affect where you end up and social mobility is the goal of getting more people to be able to move out of the socio-economic group where they started.
In order to work out if someone is from a lower socio-economic group, particular factors are considered, these are called social mobility indicators. Which can be things like:
- a student with children, especially single parents;
- a mature student with existing financial commitments;
- from a low-income family;
- a student that was previously in care (a ‘care leaver’);
- homeless or living in a foyer;
- a student that was previously eligible for Free School Meals;
- a student that was previously eligible for Pupil Premium funding;
- the first person in your family to attend university.
Why do firms care?
Firms care mainly because it is the right thing to do and it makes sense to have a workforce that reflects society at large. There is also a stack of evidence that says having a diverse workforce adds to the bottom line, as it brings a wider range of perspectives and experiences.
What do firms want?
This brings us round to what firms want and do they want from people like me or you? When law firms are hiring trainees they are looking for people who are smart, personable and hardworking.
This is the same if you are black, tall, poor, good at skiing, or whichever other ways someone might be categorised. Many firms use blind hiring to avoid any unintentional biases and the use of psychometric tests is another way they look to avoid it. So if you are smart, personable and hardworking and you love the law, then a law career is right for you regardless of where you started in life.
Micro-aggressions or clueless?
Most people are nice, most people want you to succeed and you can bet everyone you meet in a law firm wants you to be there. If you have made it onto a vacation scheme or they have given you a training contract you are exactly the type of person they want.
Sometimes you hear complaints, what people call micro-aggressions where people look to humiliate you or exclude you through the things they do or conversations they have. In my experience working with a really wide range of people across every socioeconomic group, most people are just a bit clueless.
So you might be asked, if you ski or what’s your favourite country in South-East Asia. It’s unlikely in such situations that the person asking the question is taking a swipe at you, they are most likely trying to find something to talk about so they bring up their experiences. They might not be yours, but then again I’m sure others have no idea about some of the things you know about either.
So be kind and be honest and help them see the world from your perspective - if you haven’t been on many or any foreign holidays or any holidays at all, then just say so; it’s nothing to be ashamed of any more than someone born into a wealthy family should be ashamed that their parents took them skiing.
They might need your help, so help them help others like you
Firms are trying to improve the diversity in their businesses and law firms typically do very well in different social mobility indexes, with law firms often making up around 25% of all firms, but they’re going to need your help too.
Be proud of your experience and don’t be embarrassed. Find out about them and let them find out about you. Be open and you’ll see all the barriers come down, and though you might not holiday in Val D'Isère each winter, you’ll probably have a lot more in common than you think.
Which firms are the most progressive?
There are several initiatives that law firms have signed up to that show they are serious about social mobility and below is a list of firms that appear on the Social Mobility Index by the Social Mobility Foundation, or have signed up to the Social Mobility Pledge. You can click-through to the profiles of the firms that work with AllAboutLaw below...
- BDB Pitmans
- Brodies LLP
- Burness Paull LLP
- Charles Russell Speechlys
- Kemp Little
- Mishcon de Reya