January 11, 2024
In a significant milestone for the legal sector, various UK law firms have emerged as frontrunners in the 2023 Social Mobility Employer Index, underscoring their commitment to fostering inclusivity and equal opportunities. This article delves into the implications of these results, shedding light on the Social Mobility Employer Index, initiatives within the legal sector, and the broader landscape of social mobility.

Social Mobility Employer Index Results

The Social Mobility Employer Index, now in its seventh year, evaluates employers’ efforts to enhance social mobility across critical employee milestones. These milestones include engagement with young people, pathways into the workforce, attraction, recruitment and selection, data collection, progression, culture, and experienced hires, along with advocacy.

Notably, 143 organisations participated in the 2023 index, spanning private, public, and voluntary sectors. Law firms dominated the entries, comprising 36%, followed by banking, financial services, and insurance at 15%.

A significant trend revealed by the report is the evolving recruitment landscape. Forty-six organisations no longer consider grades during the recruitment process, signalling a shift towards holistic evaluation. Additionally, over 100 organisations collect socioeconomic data on employees, emphasising a commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

However, challenges persist, as three organisations still offer unpaid internships, highlighting an area that requires continued attention.

Overview of Social Mobility Initiatives

The legal sector’s commitment to social mobility is exemplified by initiatives such as Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer LLP’ Aspiring Professionals Programme. This three-year program, delivered in collaboration with the Social Mobility Foundation, targets high-achieving young people from areas with limited work opportunities and diverse ethnic backgrounds.

A participant in the program emphasised its transformative impact, stating, “Without this internship, I would have never met anyone practising law in London or from such a prestigious firm.”

The report also provides recommendations for employers and policymakers. These suggestions include reviewing the socioeconomic background of apprenticeship intakes, investing in well-structured school leaver programs, utilising contextual recruitment tools like upReach’s REALrating, covering travel and accommodation costs for interviews, and analysing pay data to identify class pay gaps. These recommendations serve as a roadmap for organisations striving to enhance social mobility within their ranks.

Social Mobility in Law Firms

The Current Landscape

In the legal profession, social mobility pertains to creating a level playing field for individuals from diverse backgrounds to access and progress within the field of law. It involves dismantling barriers that may impede individuals from underprivileged backgrounds in pursuing legal careers and ascending through the ranks.

The Historical Context

Historically, the legal sector has faced criticism for its lack of diversity and inclusivity. Entry into the legal profession often required not only academic excellence but also access to elite networks and resources. This exclusivity perpetuated a cycle where individuals from privileged backgrounds had a more straightforward path to success, while others faced formidable obstacles.

Social Mobility in Action: Notable Law Firms

Browne Jacobson, retaining its position as the highest-ranked law firm in the index, is a testament to the firm’s commitment to social mobility. Caroline Green, a senior partner at Browne Jacobson, expressed pride in the firm’s achievements. This success reflects not only on the firm’s accomplishments but also on its responsibility to lead by example.

DWF Group Plc, inspired by the success of its Ethnic Minority Programme, recently launched its Social Mobility Programme. These initiatives underscore the industry-wide acknowledgment of the need for comprehensive strategies to address disparities and create pathways for individuals from diverse backgrounds to thrive in the legal profession.

The Way Forward: Empowering Social Mobility

The Social Mobility Foundation’s Chair, Alan Milburn, commended the efforts of organisations entering the index but urged the government to scale up these initiatives. The collective commitment of employers must be met with corresponding policy measures to create a sustainable impact. As the legal sector leads the charge in social mobility, there is a need for collaboration between government bodies, employers, and educational institutions to bridge gaps and create a level playing field for aspiring professionals.

Caroline Green, a senior partner at Browne Jacobson, expressed pride in the firm’s continued success on the index. Such sentiments signify not only accomplishment but also a recognition of the responsibility that comes with influence. Law firms, as key players in shaping legal landscapes, are well-positioned to influence positive change in social mobility.


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Nurturing Social Mobility in Law Firms

  • Understanding Your Data: In the pursuit of fostering social mobility, law firms are urged to first understand their workforce data. In spring 2021, the SRA updated the diversity questions related to socio-economic background in mySRA, aligning with the latest best practices from the Social Mobility Commission. This commitment to staying current reflects a dedication to creating an inclusive workplace. By regularly updating and analysing diversity data, law firms can identify areas for improvement and track progress over time.
  • Removing Barriers and Encouraging Social Mobility: The Social Mobility Commission’s Employer’s Toolkit for the Financial and Professional Services Sector, published in December 2020, serves as a valuable resource for law firms. This toolkit outlines practical steps to remove barriers for individuals from less privileged backgrounds, offering guidance on progressing from ‘developing’ to ‘optimising’ the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives. To further enhance social mobility, law firms can benefit from the insights provided in the Sutton Trust’s guide, “Social Mobility in the Workplace – An Employer’s Guide,” which delves into making the most of social mobility data and establishing internships and apprenticeships.
  • Law firms can also find support through initiatives like The Law Society’s social mobility ambassadors scheme, which highlights role models from non-traditional backgrounds. These individuals have achieved their ambitions and are willing to support their peers within the legal profession, fostering a culture of mentorship and support.

Collaborative Efforts

Recognising that social mobility is a collective effort, several schemes within the legal sector bring firms together to promote and develop initiatives:

  • PRIME (Professionalism in Law): PRIME is an alliance of law firms across the UK and Republic of Ireland dedicated to enhancing access to and socio-economic diversity within the legal profession. By making the PRIME commitment, member firms ensure that students receive a consistent, high-quality experience regardless of the firm. Norton Rose Fulbright and Ashurst LLP are examples of law firms that have gained valuable experiences and benefits from participating in PRIME programs.
  • Social Mobility Business Partnership (SMBP): SMBP plays a crucial role in providing work experience and ongoing support to students interested in pursuing careers in law, business, or finance. By facilitating exposure and support, SMBP contributes to breaking down barriers and promoting social mobility.
  • Aspiring Solicitors: Collaborating with law firms and legal teams, Aspiring Solicitors actively supports the recruitment of diverse talent. This organisation works towards creating pathways for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, aligning with the broader goal of enhancing social mobility within the legal profession.

The Significance of Promoting Social Mobility

Promoting social mobility within law firms is not just a matter of compliance; it is a strategic imperative. A diverse and socially mobile workforce brings a range of perspectives, experiences, and talents, enriching the professional environment.

Beyond the ethical imperative, there is a growing recognition that diverse teams are more innovative, better equipped to navigate complex challenges, and ultimately contribute to the success and sustainability of the legal industry.


In conclusion, the prominence of law firms in the 2023 Social Mobility Employer Index is a testament to the legal sector’s commitment to breaking down barriers and creating a more diverse and inclusive environment.

By understanding the nuances of social mobility, acknowledging historical challenges, and actively participating in initiatives, law firms can continue to lead the way in advancing social mobility. As the legal profession pioneers change, it sets an example for other industries to follow, fostering a future where opportunities are truly equal for all.


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