New study highlights extent of public school bias among legal profession

Lawyers are more than seven times as likely to have been privately educated than the general population, according to new research.

A survey of almost 50,000 City professionals, conducted by legal recruitment consultancy Laurence Simons, found that 15% of lawyers were educated at the UK’s 250 public schools, compared to just 2% of the general population.

The figures add further weight to claims that social exclusivity in the legal sector is a problem that needs to be addressed.

From those surveyed, 2,717 (5%) had been educated at either Eton, Westminster or Winchester, with 830 of those (30%) going on to become lawyers.

The findings come after a report last year looking at fair access to the professions included a submission from the Sutton Trust stating that between 1988 and 2004, the proportion of magic circle partners aged under 39 who had been privately educated increased from 59% to 71%.

Laurence Simons director Jason Horobin said: “The figures paint a disturbingly regressive picture of the opportunities open to those wishing to get into law. Social exclusivity is rife in the industry.”

He added: “The fact that 15% of people in the sector attended one of just 250 of the nation’s most exclusive schools shows this is a real policy blind spot. A lot has been done to address the under-representation of women and ethnic minority groups, and we’re at least on the way to tackling those issues, but the under-representation of those who cannot afford a silver-plated education is getting worse, not better.”

According to the research, the demise of grammar schools and the decline in academic standards in the state sector has created the most significant barrier to entry for those educated by the state.

Horobin said: “This does not appear to be a case of wanton snobbery on behalf of legal employers – in many ways, Britain’s bluechip legal employers are simply reacting to the decline of state education. The overwhelming conclusion must be that if your children aspire to a successful legal career and you are choosing them a school, it pays to pay.”