‘It is clear that the legal sector is starting to make real efforts to address fair access and social mobility’, is a conclusion of the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, Rt. Hon Alan Milburn, in his May 2012 progress report. However, ‘the further up the profession you go, the more socially exclusive it becomes.
Even more worryingly, entry to the law - and therefore the lawyers of the future - is still too socially exclusive’. There have only been ‘modest changes in the social pattern of those applying to study law at university’, where as many as 41% of undergraduates are still from the three highest socio-economic backgrounds.
Relying on statistics many of which have been compiled on behalf of the Bar Council, he noted that women represent an increasing number of practising barristers but there has only been a ‘slow increase’ in the number of BME barristers. Overall the self-employed Bar is less diverse than the employed Bar and within the self-employed group, ‘the more diverse sectors are those that are less well paid. The senior branches of the legal profession continue to be characterised by social exclusivity that is at odds with the growing diversity of the society it serves. Progress is limited and much more needs to be done’.
There is approval for the Inner Temple Schools Project and also for the Legal Services Board which will be introducing systematic socio-economic data collection from the end of 2012 (‘This is a decisive act of leadership which we applaud’). The Report however raises questions about even the good work that has been done: ‘It is unclear at present what the motivating factors are for the type of outreach work that the legal sector undertakes. This plethora of initiatives has to be much more focused’. In order to change the lives of young people, there must be sustainability and evaluation of programmes. Initiatives ‘must be more than a one-day burst of activity’. ‘Too often the agenda is driven by a small number of individuals who are genuinely committed to effecting change’.