A US firm has specified that it only wants Oxbridge graduates to apply for a job.

The unidentified firm has placed an advert with Marsden, a legal recruitment agency, for a barrister to join its international arbitration practice. 

The vacancy specified that the "prestigious US firm" was "seeking an Oxbridge educated Barrister who is looking to progress their career in private practise". It was also circulated online by a Marsden director. A source said, "coming from a non-Oxbridge background, I find this deeply offensive". 

Marsden refused to divulge the identity of the firm. One of its legal recruiters told RollOnFriday, "I'm not at liberty to disclose anything about any of my clients".


Trigger warning: contains elitism

Oxbridge isn't solely the preserve of the white and the elite. 15.9% of Oxbridge students in 2016 were BAME compared to 13% in the UK propulation. But there are issues. Some colleges go years without recruiting any black students at all. Over 60% of Oxford students in 2018 went to private or grammar schools.

Employment experts told RollOnFriday the firm was not breaching the law. Characteristics including disability and race are protected under discrimination legislation, "but educational attainment is not". Arguably, said one expert, the firm could be accused of associated discrimination if it could be shown that specifying Oxbridge candidates served to filter out candidates with protected characteristics. 


The first draft of the advert.

The firm's specification is at odds with the direction which progressive competitors are taking in their recruitment efforts. Increasingly, firms have sought to reduce pro-Oxbridge bias by adopting a 'CV blind' format. Under the approach, only the candidate's name is revealed to the interviewing panel, and not their sordid past at a redbrick or ex-poly.

Given the large proportion of barristers who did attend Oxbridge, the US firm probably didn't even need to specify a bar on non-Oxbridge scum. Jonathan Marsden, the principal of Marsden, did not respond to a request for comment. However he went to Newcastle, so RollOnFriday wouldn't have accepted his statement anyway.

Tip Off ROF


not a bot 05 April 19 09:20

This US firm is easily identifiable as the vacancy is being advertised directly by the firm on Linked In and does stipulate Oxbridge as a requirement. 

Anonymous 05 April 19 10:53

Speaking as a non Oxbridge graduate myself, is this ad really "deeply offensive"? Is it elitist, yes. is it out of touch, yes. is it narrow minded, yes. But is it deeply offensive, that's a big "nope" as far as I'm concerned.

FmrCityLawFirmWorker 05 April 19 13:07

Less about race and more about perceived graduate quality. Think the article is barking up the wrong tree.

I have no idea but wonder whether US firms recruiting US grads stipulate "Ivy League only"?

Anon 05 April 19 13:27

It always infuriates me when state grammar schools get bundled in with private schools! The state grammar I went to was massively underfunded compared to the local comprehensives (on the assumption by the local authority that they are doing alright in any event so why do they need good facilities), didn't have any real careers service to speak of and the path to Oxbridge was never discussed. It also had the same spectrum across the social classes as the local comprehensives and certainly wasn't any more or less middle class. I suspect state grammars send more working and lower-middle class kids to Oxbridge than any other type of school.

AS 05 April 19 13:49

I reckon Clearys or one of the newer US entries to London.

I went to a Clearys vac scheme assessment 6 or 7 years ago, it was a one day assessment with 40-50 participants (which was a joke in itself). Of the 40 or so people, there were 5 non-Oxbridge attendees, who "coincidentally" all went to Durham or Bristol. There were 5 people from  my college alone on the assessment. It would have genuinely been a waste of my time other than it was a free trainfare to London. Funnily enough, I actually ended up at a US firm, but not Clearys, and the firm genuinely does not care which uni (or school) you went to provided you're one, not a pr*ck and two, a decent lawyer who is prepared to work reasonably hard (1500+).  

Lydia 05 April 19 14:28

Nothing wrong with that at all. It's no different from any other filter such as much have an English GCSE.

Anon 05 April 19 20:03

It's tiresome, even daft, but it's not "deeply offensive".  Law firms are expected to filter applicants and recruit the best candidates available.  

Duh 09 April 19 11:23

A firm is allowed to set any benchmark it likes re recruitment. And Oxbridge represents the two top universities. So far so reasonable...

...but many subjects are more competitive at less prestigious universities. Plainly it is harder to get into UCL to study English than Oxford for classics or modern languages.

jonnywishbone 10 April 19 11:09

Ridiculous article! Discriminating openly on the basis of university attendance is ‘deeply offensive’?! I am not sure how having this as an implicit criteria is any better? In fact I think it is worse! If all the firms weren’t using university brand as a selection criteria already we would see a reasonably even spread of associates from all universities (based on attendance numbers) at all firms. We don’t, but having it as an unspoken rule allows the champagne socialists to kick back with their feet up and feel they are doing a good job at attracting a diverse intake!

Related News