“A truly diverse and inclusive legal profession”

I always enjoy John Naughton’s posts in Memex 1.1.

Yesterday, in Onwards and downwards, what struck me most was less his finding the report of Alan Milburn’s inquiry into social mobility in contemporary Britain “deeply depressing” than his conclusion,

But the wider problem laid bare with scarifying clarity by the Milburn report remains. And nobody — and this includes Milburn — has any real idea what to do about it.

And today I have finally got round to reading Alex Novarese’s post Law and the myth of social mobility in Editors’ Blog on Legalweek.com,

Does the legal profession have particular cause for concern? The basic fact remains that law, like medicine, is built on a foundation of structured academic learning, followed by equally structured vocational training. As such, law is not well equipped to overcome the weaknesses of the UK’s educational system. Interestingly, Milburn’s report also notes that the number of independently-schooled solicitors has fallen since the late 1980s, so on that yardstick there has been some progress. There is also the issue that law has a very structured career track, with clearly defined routes in, making it one of the more transparent of the aspirational careers.

There is an interesting comparison to journalism, which the report notes has moved from being one of the most socially inclusive careers to become considerably more privileged over the last 20 years. The report concludes that journalism is the only career in which the proportion of staff educated at independent schools has gone up (it was static or had fallen for all other professions, even for judges). There was also the hilarity of seeing one newspaper covering the report refer to journalism as a “former trade”, as if it had been transformed through the infusion of the privileged classes into an actual profession; my chosen trade has far more to be ashamed of regarding social mobility than law.

But the last word perhaps should come from Beth Wanono, in her Comment piece in the Law Society Gazette on 9 July, Managing Expectations. What she is writing about is not so much about social mobility and the legal profession as the very real and immediate challenge for those who aspire to be lawyers,

There is a difference between a crunch and a squeeze. My impression of the trainee market is that the situation is akin to 10,000 people trying to cram onto a train that can only hold 1,000. You could extend the tenuous analogy further and say the platform is already overflowing with those who couldn’t squeeze on to the last train.

This will only get worse. As Wanono remarks,

We have reached a stage where the balance between offering access to the profession and managing the expectations of those considering it has become dangerously tipped towards the former.