More Oxbridge lawyers means less diversity

Larissa Kennelley 7 November 2013

Lady Baroness Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court and Britain’s most senior female judge, has criticised the large rise in the number of Oxbridge law graduates becoming pupil barristers.

Latest figures indicate that 35 per cent of pupillages were given to Oxbridge graduates in the year 2010- 2011, a significant rise on the previous year’s figure of 23 per cent.

Lady Hale was herself educated at Cambridge, as the recipient of a state scholarship. Speaking at South Bank University, she described this rise as “startling”, citing a recent study which indicated that students from poorer backgrounds were at a disadvantage, being unable to undertake unpaid work experience.

“The authors warn that young lawyers from less socially advantaged backgrounds may soon not be able to go into the very areas of practice that probably drew them towards the law in the first place,” she said. “Diverse candidates find it much harder to get these [internships], partly because they don’t have the contacts and partly because they can’t afford to work without pay for any length of time”.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, the Cambridge Faculty of Law criticised the implicit link made by Lady Hale between an Oxbridge education and a privileged background. A spokesperson from the faculty stated: “To assume that a rise in the proportion of Oxbridge-educated lawyers automatically results in a lack of diversity is actually representative of exactly the view which Lady Hale seems to criticise.

“It is particularly misguided given the actual figures: in 2012 54.9 per cent of students admitted were female, and the Law Faculty has one of the highest proportions in the University of students from maintained schools (over 70 per cent).”

The faculty also added that: “It would be particularly unfortunate if Oxbridge graduates as a result of misconceptions were discriminated against simply because they attended Oxford or Cambridge, bearing in mind the significant efforts undertaken to increase the diversity of the student body even further.”

Catherine Rowley, a second year lawyer at Queens’, told TCS that many of the big firms aggressively target Oxbridge lawyers through dinners and drinks. “Mooting competitions are often sponsored by Chambers who send some of their members down to judge. It’s quite common for the best participants in such an event to be offered work experience if they want it or told any application they make to do so will be looked upon favourably” she told TCS.

Nevertheless, she added that she would agree with the University that an increase in Oxbridge lawyers did not pose any threat to diversity within the profession, with students coming from all backgrounds.