Top UK law firms to target more universities in diversity push

UK firms up number of campus visits in search of wider talent pool

A raft of the UK’s leading law firms are set to increase the number of universities they target for graduate recruitment in a bid to attract a wider pool of students.

Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells and Bird & Bird are all planning to up the number of universities they visit during the next recruitment round, starting in September.

The move, set against a backdrop of growing pressure on leading law firms to look beyond Oxbridge and increase diversity, comes after Pinsent Masons, Slaughter and May and Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) all expanded the number of universities they targeted during the last recruitment round.

It means that seven of the UK’s largest 20 law firms by revenue will have increased their university links since September 2010.

Linklaters is to add Southampton and Leicester universities to the roster of colleges it visits each year, taking its total list to 26. Freshfields, meanwhile, is developing links with seven new universities including Leicester, Sussex, Essex, Queen Mary University of London and The School of Oriental and African Studies. The firm will visit 28 universities each year.

Hogan Lovells is adding Queen’s University in Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and St Andrews in Scotland, with Bird & Bird adding Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester. The additions mean Hogan Lovells will visit 18 universities, with Bird & Bird visiting 14.

Slaughters last year upped its campus visits from 19 to 22, adding Aberdeen, Glasgow and University College Dublin. Meanwhile, BLP doubled its links to include 20 universities, while Pinsents added Aston, Edinburgh Napier, Leicester and Southampton to its previously 24-strong list.

Some of the additions are due to firms trying to improve diversity, particularly in the wake of Lord Browne’s review of student funding, which will allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 each year – a decision which could see more students choosing universities closer to their homes in an attempt to reduce debt. Other firms are rebuilding their campus links after scaling back to cut costs during the downturn.

Slaughters’ head of human resources and training, Louise Meikle (pictured), said: “Diversity is a factor in our recruitment approach and we have tried to broaden our reach to ensure that we are offering a wider number of people the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the firm.”

Hogan Lovells associate director for legal resourcing Clare Harris said: “We did previously visit these universities but, like many during the recession, we reduced our campus activity slightly. We are now very pleased to be returning.”

Simmons & Simmons is the only firm within the UK top 20 to buck the trend, decreasing the number of universities it visits from 15 to 11 over the last two years.

Simmons graduate recruitment and development manager Anna King said: “Working with a smaller number of universities enables us to go to them more frequently and develop stronger ties with a wider pool within each institution.”

Freshfields trainee partner Simon Johnson said: “We felt we needed to raise the profile of our recruitment brand on campus. We’ve increased the number of universities we target and also the number of partners, associates and trainees who regularly go and meet the students on campus. We’re looking to give those coming to our presentations an honest insight into what it’s really like working in a firm like ours.”

The remaining top 20 firms have not made changes to their campus visits. Allen & Overy and Eversheds have emerged as the firms with the broadest reach – each visiting 40 universities.

Herbert Smith graduate recruitment partner Matthew White commented: “We reviewed our graduate recruitment activities last year and decided that the 30 institutions we had been targeting for many years were the right ones for us to continue to focus on – although we will keep this under review and we welcome applications from students at any university.”