Oxbridge recruits dominate law firms

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The Independent Online

Leading law firms are perpetuating the dominance of public school, Oxbridge-educated men among their senior lawyers, according to a survey published today.

Leading law firms are perpetuating the dominance of public school, Oxbridge-educated men among their senior lawyers, according to a survey published today.

Half of this year's new partners, recruited or promoted by the so-called "magic circle" of the five biggest London-based firms, come from public schools, while almost the same proportion have been to Cambridge or Oxford University.

Perhaps more startling is the fact that only 25 per cent are women and only 8 per cent are Asian or Afro-Caribbean.

The authors of the report, published by the magazine Commercial Lawyer, found that élitism was "unsurprisingly" alive and well among the City law firms. It said that not a single new partner made up this year by the top five firms came from one of the former polytechnics.

Outside these firms, the picture was similar. Only 26 per cent of new partnerswere women and only 4.5 per cent,fewer than in the magic circle, came from the ethnic minorities. Nearly half of new partners appointed at the 138 law firms that took part in the survey went to public schools. Just 4.4 per cent came from theformer polytechnics. Lookingat law firms as a whole, one-quarter of new partners were educated at Oxbridge.

The report states: "You still have a better chance of being made a partner if you had a private education. The odds are stacked against you in the legal profession if you went to a state school. If you went to an ex-polytechnic, you can forget the magic circle."

Complaints by women lawyers that not enough is being done to help them become partners appear to be borne out by the survey. Although half of newly qualified solicitors are female, only one- quarter are invited to be partners in the firm. At one magic circle firm, Allen & Overy, only five of 40 new partners were women.

The report brands one firm of lawyers "unabashed élitists" for its choice of partners. Among new appointments atWragge & Co, a top 50 commercial law firm,just 17 per cent were women, and two-thirdscame from public school.

Legal educators, and groups representing black and Asian solicitors, have already warned City and commercial law firms that they are not taking enough non-white lawyers.

Research by the College of Law, the body that educates the highest number of law students, revealed last month that black and Asian law students have a 30 per cent lower chance of becoming solicitors than their white counterparts. Even the best-performing ethnic minority students can fail to find firms to employ them.

A partnership in a leading London practice is the start of a ladder of earnings that can reach £1m in the very top firms. Even in their first year as a partner in the City, high fivefigure salaries can double overnight. The report says the magic circle firms expected new partners to have been billing clients at the rate of 2,129 hours a year, the equivalent of 56 hours a week with four weeks' leave.