There is some slightly worrying stuff in this report. For instance, a senior partner at one of the law firms told Dr Ashley that he feared the company would come across badly if it recruited from outside its traditional pool of applicants. ‘There was one guy who came to interviews who was a real Essex barrow boy,’ he elucidated. ‘He was a clever chap, but we just felt that there’s no way we could employ him. I just thought, putting him in front of a client – you just couldn’t do it’. Hmm.
The trouble is, the report suggests, that while firms are often vocal about their ‘diversity policy’, what that often appears to amount to is ‘recruiting people from ethnic minorities who are also posh’. It’s a step forward, perhaps – but some firms are using this to mask the fact that in terms of background, the majority of their new recruits are actually very similar: middle-class, fairly privileged background, and an accent that makes Joanna Lumley sound like Del Boy.
We suppose the partners could argue that their clients want to deal with people like themselves. Equally it’s also true that law firms – like all employers – have always had a wish-list of skills and qualifications for prospective candidates (one firm even admitted that it had closed recruitment to everyone except Oxbridge graduates: ‘That’s helped with quality. We’re just a much smarter firm now’, they said). And at a time when more and more students are coming into the workplace with top grades, firms are having to take other factors into account in order to separate one super-bright candidate from another – and their level of professional polish, or whatever you want to call it, is bound to be a key criterion.
On the other hand, we’d imagine that the majority of clients will just want the best possible lawyer working on their case – regardless of whether they’re prone to the odd glottal stop. So if this report is to be believed, law firms are going to have to work much harder to prove they’re not just paying lip service to diversity in the future.