A new report published by The Prince's Trust has warned that a 'lack of inherited opportunities' means that children from families who are not socially well-connected risk falling even further behind their more advantaged peers. That shouldn't be breaking news to anybody. The so-called "social bank of mum and dad" can be as important as financial backing in supporting those starting out on their careers. Why? Simple: a lot of young people find work experience or their first job through family contacts. Why is that a problem? Well, it isn't for them. On the contrary and good luck to them. But what has this got to do with the legal profession? Everything.
The report speaks of the lack of inherited opportunities for poorer children, whose parents are not well-connected. At Hogan Lovells, we could fill our summer placement schemes with the sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren and godchildren of our partners, partners' friends, clients and business contacts. If we did, we would hire some seriously talented people. But we say no to them. Why? Because there are even more seriously talented people out there who don't swim in this self-selecting gene pool.
Why does that matter? Well it could be that the answer is all around us as we increasingly see the consequences of social exclusion in the UK and elsewhere. But we're lawyers so that's not our problem, is it? Yes, it is. The rule of law is a vital component of a stable society. Why should the creation, development and enforcement of that law be the exclusive preserve of those who happen to have been fortunate enough to be born in the right postcode?
It shouldn't. What we miss by not looking beyond those postcodes are highly intelligent and determined individuals who have succeeded despite adversity; students whose life experiences bring a different perspective and one which is often much more rounded. We miss the future lawyers with the ambition and drive to prove wrong those people who have written them off or told them it's not for them or that they won't fit. This is not about lowering standards. It is about raising aspirations. It is about giving an opportunity to the potential future leaders of our profession who would otherwise never get the chance to showcase their talent. We are a poorer profession without them.
So what can law firms do about it? They can help make a difference. Law firms can broaden the range of universities from which they recruit, they can consider using contextual recruitment, they can talk to PRIME. There is a lot that firms can do. What they can't do is nothing.
Nicholas Cheffings is the global Chair of Hogan Lovells and also Chair of PRIME.