Slaughter and May becomes first major law firm to set social mobility targets

Magic Circle firm aims to have 25% of employees from lower socio-economic background by 2033
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Slaughter and May has become what it claims to be the first major law firm to set social mobility targets.

The UK Magic Circle firm aims to have one quarter of its workforce come from a lower socio-economic background (LSEB) by 2033, up from a baseline of 18.8%. In the same timeframe the firm also plans to increase its proportion of lawyers from LSEB from 10% to 15% and its business services population from 34.75% to 40%.

Slaughters said it employs the widely-used metric of parental occupation at age 14 to measure an individual’s socio-economic background and will publish its progress against its targets in its annual Responsible Business Report.

“Having access to the best available talent, from a diverse range of backgrounds, is critical to the firm’s sustained success,” the firm said in a statement. “A lower socio-economic background can be a barrier to accessing and succeeding in the legal profession and as a result the proportion of LSEB individuals in the legal profession is significantly lower than the national average.”

Research conducted in 2021 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority found that 23% of solicitors attended a fee-paying school (compared to 7.5% nationally) and more than half (58%) came from a professional background – meaning their parents were in occupations classified as professional rather than intermediate or working class (compared to 37% nationally). 

Slaughters has partnered with non-profit consultancy Bridge Group to set its targets, conducting a workforce analysis that found progression, retention and performance of individuals from LSEB in the firm’s lawyer population is the same as their peers from other socio-economic backgrounds.

That finding contrasted with a 2018 study by Bridge Group that found individuals from LSEB were less likely to progress in their careers as lawyers than their more privileged peers, despite being more likely to be the highest performers in their firms at trainee level. The reasons for this were complex and combined societal factors with law firm culture, including a tendency to progress lawyers who share similar traits to those who currently dominate the profession and the extroversion often considered necessary to get on in the profession coming more easily to those who feel at home in that environment. 

Slaughters said the publication of the targets built on its work over the past decade to open access to the legal profession, including through the Law Springboard support scheme for students it launched in 2019 with social mobility charity upReach and the undergraduate scholarship programme it began the next year. It was also one of the first law firms to use the Rare Contextual Recruitment System as part of its trainee recruitment. It contextualises academic achievement against a range of socio-economic data.

The firm is launching an action plan to meet its targets, with measures that include offering an apprenticeship route into the firm and extending its scholarship programme. The firm also aims to increase disclosure of diversity data among staff from 70% to 90%. 

Andrew Jolly, corporate partner and chair of the firm’s Social Mobility Working Group, said: “Our work with the Bridge Group shows that when LSEB lawyers come to Slaughter and May their progression is strong and they are just as likely as their peers from other socio-economic backgrounds to succeed in the firm. 

“The targets and actions we have announced today focus on ensuring this continues to be the case as well as making the firm an attractive place to work for people from a wide range of backgrounds.”

The Social Mobility Commission added: “We recommend that employers collect SEB data to understand organisational diversity and inform an action plan. When targets are set, best practice is to base them on benchmarks that reflect the requirements of the role, in order that they do not undermine a meritocratic recruitment and progression process. The thorough benchmarking analysis that Slaughter and May have undertaken sets a new standard for the sector.”

Leading law firms – including Slaughters – have been scrambling to improve their diversity records in recent years through the publication of targets and the launch of new initiatives. The firm also aims to have at least 40% of its equity partner promotions globally go to women in the 10 years to 2027 – a target it met in its promotions round earlier this year.

Alongside the gender target is a commitment that “between May 2020 and April 2025, a minimum of 15% of equity partner promotions in London and Brussels will be from ethnic minority backgrounds.” Slaughters has significantly bettered that, saying that from 2020 to 2023 it managed to achieve 24%, and that this year it is at 30%.

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