Birmingham has much to be proud of. The combination of a young population, rich cultural diversity and unprecedented growth and transformation means it is a fantastic place to live and work. With these strengths come opportunities, but sadly, these opportunities are not as accessible as they could be. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the top earners in Birmingham take home more than six times as much as the lowest paid. It remains the case that 40% of Birmingham’s population live in areas which are amongst the most deprived in the country. Unfortunately, this means that the relationship between income inequality and low levels of social mobility becomes even more pronounced.
The Legal Profession
These trends are mirrored within the legal profession. Research from the SRA has shown that 22% of all lawyers attended fee paying schools, compared with 7% in the general population. Corporate firms have the lowest proportion of state educated solicitors at 56%. This shows that parental background is still a strong determinant of an individual’s prospects of accessing and succeeding in a legal career. In a city filled with positive change, these trends are concerning. It is very important that we as Birmingham lawyers work together to break down the social and financial barriers to a career in the legal profession. Not only will this help talented individuals to access the opportunities required to move forward, but it will also ensure that the success and development of our legal community is not restricted by its socioeconomic profile.
New Social Mobility Sub-committee within Birmingham Law Society
Birmingham Law Society is committed to addressing these issues. Following the launch of the Equality and Diversity Committee in 2018, a dedicated Social Mobility Sub-Committee has been established to develop knowledge and understanding of the importance of improved social mobility within our profession. The sub-committee aims to organise events and disseminate guidance to ensure individuals from all backgrounds have access to the resources and advice to make an informed decision about a career in law and progress their aspirations. The sub-committee meets once a month at Anthony Collins Solicitors and currently has ten members from a range of backgrounds and levels of seniority in academia and legal practice.
Since its creation, the sub-committee has worked proactively with stakeholders to address identified needs both in terms of accessing the profession and progressing in a legal environment. These stakeholders include education providers, legal professionals, regulatory bodies and related network groups. In November 2019, the sub-committee ran a successful speed networking event entitled “Raising Aspirations in Law” to assist students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to understand the range of available opportunities in the legal profession and obtain the connections they need to access those opportunities. The event was hosted by Aston University and attended by representatives from over 20 organisations including corporate firms, high street firms, barristers’ chambers and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This year, the sub-committee hopes to build on its achievements by rerunning the Raising Aspirations in Law event, encouraging stakeholders to share ideas for best practice and hosting a further networking event targeted at first-generation junior lawyers.
Working together on the challenges
Birmingham Law Society’s efforts to improve social mobility are not limited to the Social Mobility Sub-Committee. Other related committees within the Society, such as the Education and Training Committee and the Student Committee, regularly consider social mobility issues as part of the projects they deliver, and the sub-committee collaborates with these groups to ensure a joined-up approach is being taken. For example, representatives from each of these groups are currently working together to produce a video for local universities in which a range of first-generation lawyers will share the challenges they faced in accessing and progressing in their career and offer advice to students in the same position.
Whilst the social mobility challenge is great, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future. With a range of ongoing initiatives and passionate volunteers, Birmingham Law Society is working to make our legal community a place where success relies on ability rather than background or birth. By diversifying the range of experience and talent in our legal profession, Birmingham can truly make the most of the opportunities that await.
If you would like to learn more about social mobility initiatives within Birmingham Law Society and are interested in becoming involved or collaborating with us, please email me at Alice.Kinder@anthonycollins.com