Exclusive: Law firm Clifford Chance adopts ‘CV blind’ policy to break Oxbridge recruitment bias

Lecturers urge employers to follow Clifford Chance’s lead to find the best graduate candidates

One of the country’s leading law firms has adopted a radical approach to recruiting graduates, in an attempt to neutralise any bias towards Oxbridge or the country’s leading independent schools.

Clifford Chance, one of the big five “magic circle” law firms in the United Kingdom, has quietly introduced a “CV blind” policy for final interviews with all would-be recruits. Staff conducting the interviews are no longer given any information about which university candidates attended, or whether they come from state or independent schools.

“All they will have is the candidate’s name for the final assessment,” said Laura Yeates, graduate recruitment and development manager at the firm.

The company’s scheme is understood to be unique in the UK. Last night university lecturers urged other corporations to follow suit.

In its first year of operation, the scheme has seen its annual intake of 100 graduate trainees come from 41 different education institutions – a rise of nearly 30 per cent on the number represented in the previous year under the old recruitment system.

Successful applicants came from universities including Cardiff, Essex, Lancaster, Liverpool and Ulster.

“The overall object is to make sure we never lose out on talent, wherever it comes from,” said Ms Yeates. “We need to make sure we have the very best people spread out across the whole of the UK in terms of institutions.”

A senior employee added: “We’re looking for the gems and they’re not all in the jeweller’s shop.”

The firm made its changes after a study showed that an Eton and Oxbridge education was still a must for high-flyers in a host of professions ranging from the judiciary and the diplomatic service to acting.

The research, by education charity the Sutton Trust, showed that nearly a third of the people whose birthdays were recorded by national newspapers (31 per cent) were Oxbridge educated, while the top 50 schools most mentioned were all independent.

Critics of current recruitment procedures are divided on why the bias is still so prevalent – some believe that candidates from less selective universities are reluctant to apply because they believe the jobs will all go to those from the Russell Group of universities (which represents 24 of the most selective institutions in the UK), while others suspect bias on the part of interviewing panels.

The Clifford Chance shake-up to the interviewing process does not stop with “CV blind” interviews. In deciding who will make it to the final panel, candidates are scored on work experience – which could include working full-time in retail to cover the cost of tuition fees – as well as job-related work placement on a more formal scheme.

In addition, half the posts on its vacation programmes (offering placements in the spring and summer to existing students) are reserved for those who come through an “Intelligent Aid” scheme, where candidates write a 250 to 500-word essay on a topic important to the firm and then do a presentation on it. Again, the candidate’s university background is not revealed.

The firm has found the scheme has attracted a third more “first generation” university students than the traditional route to recruitment – and three times as many students from universities with which it does not have strong traditional links.

Clifford Chance said it was now in contact with a total of 57 universities in the UK – and had a “physical presence” on 37 campuses. Among those it has targeted are former polytechnics – such as the University of East London – and Birkbeck College, world-renowned for its work with mature part-time students.

The firm is also active on Facebook, offering a “meet the recruiters” Q&A session, which has been influential in attracting students from universities with no tradition of success in recruitment to top legal firms.

Dr Tessa Stone, of the Brightside Trust – a charity which helps young people access education and career options they might not have believed were open to them, said Clifford Chance’s approach would help students “who may not have the background and connections to have amassed the sort of ‘CV points’ corporate firms usually like to tick off – but who have a huge amount to offer to firms interested in real talent regardless of background”.

She added: “Evidence shows that these students tend to outperform their privately educated peers once they reach university, so this is a pool of inspiring talent currently going relatively untapped. We hope others will follow Clifford Chance’s lead.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Certain professions still seem to be out of reach for many – as a quick glance at the Cabinet disappointingly confirms.

“This firm should be applauded for its efforts to truly employ people based on merit.”

A Russell Group spokesman declined to comment as the scheme did not adversely affect its students.

Elite domination: Oxbridge graduates

Law

LegalWeek reported in 2010 that 38 per cent of trainees at the “magic circle” law firms went to Oxbridge, including 48 per cent of the intake at Slaughter and May between 2008 and 2010. The Attorney General Dominic Grieve (right) studied modern history at Oxford. Britain’s most senior female judge, deputy president of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, warned last year that there was a “startling” rise in the number of  Oxbridge graduates entering the legal profession. Figures showed 35 per cent of pupil barristers were Oxbridge graduates in 2010-11, compared with 23 per cent in the previous year.

Parliament

Almost a third of MPs went to Oxford or Cambridge, according to Sutton Trust research in 2010. This included 38 per cent of Conservative MPs and 20 per cent of Labour MPs. David Cameron, and former prime ministers Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath all attended Oxford University. Gordon Brown was the first university-educated British prime minister from neither Oxford nor Cambridge.

Media

The Sutton Trust published a survey in 2006 showing that more than half of university-educated leading journalists went to Oxford or Cambridge. High-profile journalists David Dimbleby, Nick Robinson and Fiona Bruce all studied at Oxford. The Sutton Trust report also found that 54 per cent of top journalists were educated in private schools. BBC presenter Fiona Bruce studied at Hertford College, Oxford BBC presenter Fiona Bruce studied at Hertford College, Oxford

Entertainment

The comedian Bob Mortimer recently claimed that Oxbridge comedians benefited from more career breaks than those who did not attend the elite universities. “I find it hard to believe that they are the funniest people on earth. There’s something going on,” he said in an interview.

Natasha Clark

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Maths Teacher (Swindon and Wiltshire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths teachers for short-term cover, l...

Maths Teacher (Bath and North East Somerset)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths teachers for day to day cover, l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Maths Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths Teachers for various roles - sho...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week