As I write, I am on holiday. Damp Dorset weather has been an excuse to watch the Olympics. Empty seats have not lessened the drama or the achievements of a GB team, which appears more representative than ever of a modern and diverse nation. A Twitter spat over the accent of a BBC presenter struck an unexpected chord. Growing up in the East of London and Essex, the soft ‘h’, the silent ‘g’, the swallowed ‘t’ all seemed normal; simply the way people spoke. It also seemed to be the mission of our educators to eradicate them. Unlike other regional accents, equally careless with their vowels and glottal stops, Estuary English did not add colour to speech. It was not, we were told, easy on the ear and, worst of all, had class connotations and would ‘hold us back’. So, it was refreshing, for me at least, to see a defiant reaction to tweets which implicitly drew attention to someone’s social background rather than acknowledging their achievement in anchoring the broadcast commentary for such a major event. There will always, I suspect, be a debate about received pronunciation and a natural tendency for accents to be levelled by educational and career paths, but they are just one of the areas in which we need to take care that there are not invisible barriers to social mobility.

The stereotype that barristers come solely from a narrow educational and social background, a rarefied few in an elitist profession, lingers. The cliché is certainly untrue of the Bar as a whole, but, while it remains, we need to ensure that it does not dissuade talented individuals from entering the profession.

The Bar Council’s Social Mobility Advocates are one of the ways in which the Bar Council is seeking to show what the modern Bar really looks like. A diverse group of barristers, from juniors to QCs, from commercial to criminal sets, they are characterised by one thing: a non-traditional path to the Bar. Through sharing their stories at #IAmTheBar, our advocates are eager to dispel the myth that barristers are, uniformly, privately educated Oxbridge graduates. For the past three years, each group has participated in media and outreach work, engaging with communities and students to inspire and advise the next generation of barristers. This autumn, a new set of Social Mobility Advocates will be announced. I’m looking forward to hearing about their journeys to the Bar, and I know that once again they will prove that talent and determination are the deciding factors in what makes a successful barrister.

But a true picture of the Bar needs to be unvarnished. Money, or lack of it, can still be an obstacle. Many of our Social Mobility Advocates have spoken about the realities of financing their educations and careers; from waiting tables in the evenings to finance their courses to taking out sizeable loans. For many, the scholarships and awards offered by the Inns were a lifeline.

The data also shows us that there is more work to be done. In the soon-to-be-released Working Lives survey, one-in-four respondents attended a UK independent school with no bursary, with 11% attending a UK independent school with a bursary – a far higher amount than in the general population. And more men report having been educated at independent schools than women (43% compared to 29% of women). More than half of all respondents came from families where at least one parent/guardian held a degree or equivalent qualification. More parents of minority ethnic origin barristers held no formal qualifications (22% compared to 16% of white barristers). The survey demonstrates the need for an intersectional approach to social mobility; one which recognises how background can overlap with gender and ethnicity. Conversely, it shows that tackling inequality based on background is a necessary part of improving diversity.

It is also clear that social mobility differs according to practice area. Barristers working in criminal and family law are much more likely to be from families where they are the first generation to have attended higher education, while barristers who went to private schools earn more, on average, than their state-school educated colleagues. This split by educational background also affects career prospects. Twice as many barristers educated at independent schools achieve silk compared to those from state schools.

But there also signs of real change. Younger barristers responding to the survey are less likely to have attended independent schools than their older counterparts, with half of respondents aged 65-plus having a private education compared to a third of those aged under 45. As seen in the Bar Standards Board’s Diversity at the Bar report, this is part of a general trend.

The Bar Council is committed to modernising the Bar. This involves accelerating the breaking down of barriers that prevent progress for barristers from non-typical backgrounds through a range of initiatives such as The Bar Council Leadership Programme, our mentorship and coaching schemes, and our award-winning I Am the Bar campaign. The extensive work done by the Bar Council’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee has been crucial in leading the development of Bar Council equality and diversity policy and guidance for the profession.

Together, we can ensure that the profession continues to move in the right direction, and that no potential barrister ever feels that the Bar is off-limits to them. Alfred Doolittle might finally be welcome.