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The Oracle

Social mobility: will my socioeconomic background impact my chance of securing a training contract?

updated on 14 May 2024

Dear Oracle

I didn’t go to a selective school, but have good A levels and my ambition is to be a City lawyer – what does this mean for my chances? What are law firms doing to improve the representation of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: seven minutes

Your social background should make no difference to your chances of becoming a solicitor and most law firms, including City firms, have revised old recruitment processes to aid equal opportunities and access to the profession.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) latest diversity stats indicate a shift in the socioeconomic makeup of lawyers. In the past, the differences between lawyers' socioeconomic background have been stark. For example, in 2020 a study by the Bridge Group found that more than half of partners at City firms went to private schools, while solicitors from lower socioeconomic backgrounds took 18 months longer to reach partner. More recently, in January 2024, the SRA reported that 25% of partners attended an independent/fee-paying school, with the proportion of all lawyers who attended an independent/fee-paying school falling to 21% (down 1% since 2021) and those who attended state schools increased to 64%. The SRA’s report states that there’s “a decreased proportion of lawyers attending an independent/fee-paying school” and an increase in those attending a state school or school outside the UK. While these stats point to movement in the right direction, as ever, there remains work to be done.

Law Society President Nick Emmerson says: “Talented, intelligent, tenacious solicitors can be found in every corner of England and Wales. We all need to prioritise diversity and inclusion, including social mobility, so our profession accurately reflects the society we serve.” So, what’s the legal profession doing to remove barriers and improve social mobility, and how does that impact you?

Improving social mobility in the profession

As an increasing number of firms commit to social mobility targets, including the likes of magic circle firm Slaughter and May, there have also been calls for social background to be added as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Speaking to Legal Futures in 2023, Alice Kinder (social mobility ambassador and president of Birmingham Law Society) explains that adding it as a characteristic to the act could provide “a lot of clarity” for businesses and “would do a lot to shift the dial in terms of unacceptable behaviour”.

Meanwhile, there are a number of initiatives that have been developed over the past few years that are designed to level the playing field and remove the invisible obstacles that prevent state-educated students and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds from achieving their academic and professional goals.

While it's true that some firms target certain universities for law fairs, presentations and other forms of campus engagement, others have revised their approach to ensure they reach all prospective talent and others continue to meet candidates virtually in an effort to broaden the pool of talent they interact with.

The Oracle answer a similar question here: ‘I didn’t attend a Russell Group university, can I still get a training contract?’.

So, check which firms are attending your university’s law fair as well as other events, including LawCareers.Net’s virtual Bootcamp series in collaboration with The University of Law and our annual in-person careers conferences, LawCareersNetLIVE. These offer a fantastic opportunity to network with several law firms and are a great resource to kickstart your legal career.

On top of this, 41 out of 75 of the organisations listed on the 2023 Social Mobility Employer Index were law firms, making it the best-represented sector in the index for 2023. Browne Jacobson LLP was second overall and top among the law firms on the list, closely followed by Linklaters LLP, Allen & Overy LLP (now A&O Shearman) and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

In addition, Slaughter and May set social mobility targets in 2023, making it the first major law firm to commit to such targets as it aimed to increase the proportion of lawyers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the firm.  

Social Mobility Pledge

Fifteen City of London Law Society (CLLS) member firms joined forces with Justine Greening’s Social Mobility Pledge, which will see them work closely with universities including BradfordStaffordshireLincoln, York St John and Liverpool John Moores to improve access and equal opportunities into the legal profession. The project will focus on schools, access and recruitment. The Social Mobility Pledge is the first sector-wide initiative designed to facilitate leading law firms working together to develop solutions to address the lack of social mobility in the legal profession.

The 15 CLLS members that have committed to the project are:

Other signatories include Addleshaw Goddard, Blake Morgan LLP, Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, Mayer Brown International LLP and Osborne Clarke LLP.

The 93% Club

In addition, Sophie Pender founded the 93% Club in 2016 to support those from low socioeconomic backgrounds in making valuable connections and ultimately working towards equal opportunities.

Six years on, and the 93% Club has 51 student societies, or ‘clubs’ at 51 universities. In 2023, between them, these societies delivered 385 events, an average of 1.05 events every day! In the club’s 2023 impact report, Pender cites the continued growth of the club’s student community and campus-based society network as one of the “most significant achievements”. Pender says: “Onboarding an average of 300 students per month, the record growth of our online and campus-based student community not only demonstrates the continuing need for our community across the country, but underscores the shared conviction that state-educated students are entitled to the same opportunities as their independently-educated counterparts.”

More social mobility action from Slaughter and May saw the firm partner with the 93% Club (and others) to create 93% Professionals – “the UK’s least exclusive members’ club”. It’s a community designed “to ensure that – once state-educated people get into the workplace – they are empowered to thrive and are set up for sustained success”.

In addition, the Social Mobility Factory and State School Roadshow were also huge successes in 2023. The Social Mobility Factory reached more than 600 people, offering the opportunity for students to practise mock interviews, have their CV reviewed and a professional headshot taken. Meanwhile, as part of the State School Roadshow, the club visited four universities (Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle), which saw more than 80 professionals attend the networking events to support students considering their post-university opportunities. More than 90% of the 259 students who attended a roadshow event said it helped them to “build and bolster effective professional networks”.

The club has backing from several firms, including: 

  • Bates Wells;
  • Clifford Chance;
  • Herbert Smith Freehills LLP;
  • RPC; and
  • Taylor Wessing. 

upReach and Slaughter and May – Springboard

The magic circle firm is the sponsor of upReach’s two-year Springboard programme of personalised career support. It’s designed to help students explore their career options, increase their employability and widen their professional network.

You can find out more about the programmes success in 2022/23 via this LCN Says.

The Law Society’s social mobility ambassadors

Every two to three years the Law Society selects around 10 solicitor ambassadors who are willing to share their experiences of entering the profession, outlining the challenges they faced and how they overcame them to be where they are today.

The ambassadors will also offer practical advice for aspiring lawyers in similar positions – the scheme aims to “show that, regardless of social background, the profession welcomes talent, tenacity and a strong work ethic”.


There are other schemes within the sector that aim to promote and improve social mobility within the profession.

It’s also vital to acknowledge that the work is ongoing and by no means finished. The lack of representation at various levels within the profession is a fundamental issue that weakens the whole sector by limiting the range of perspectives and experience that firms can bring to bear on behalf of their clients. “”“”

As you can see from this article, there are initiatives within the profession designed to support your career goals and so many firms have made and are continuing to make commitments to work towards a more diverse and inclusive profession.

Researching a firm is a great way for aspiring lawyers to find out about its culture and identify the initiatives it has in place to create a representative workforce.

Find out more about researching law firms via LawCareers.Net.

It’s also worth noting that there’s increasing (and welcome) adoption of contextual recruitment practices like upReach’s REALrating. This system allows employers to identify hidden talent and monitor socioeconomic data. It’s been designed to contextualise academic performance and highlight candidates’ potential to succeed. By working with the charity, law firms can identify applicants who’ve achieved against the odds.

As such, your good A levels and a similar performance at university should give you the base ingredients you need to compete. From there, it’s all about getting as much work experience as you can and making sure your communication and teamwork skills are honed.

Target your applications carefully. A glance at a firm's roster will tell you a lot about the kind of people it recruits and whether it remains a bit of an old boys' club. Firms with a broader outlook will be better to work for anyway. If you can demonstrate all the qualities and credentials for the job, there’s no way you should feel discouraged from pursuing a career in the legal profession.

For more insight into what the legal profession is doing to promote and develop diversity and inclusion, head to LawCareers.Net’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.