How to boost social mobility in your law firm

This guide looks at how law firms can best measure socio-economic diversity, how to compare your data to other firms, and tips on taking action.

Anyone, regardless of socio-economic background, with the necessary skills and potential should have the opportunity to join and succeed in our rewarding and globally leading legal profession.

While the profession is working hard to take the challenging but necessary steps to improve diversity, data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) shows that socio-economic diversity is an area that needs urgent focus and action.

Right now, there is a significant difference in the background of lawyers compared to the UK population.

Firms regulated by the SRA must report their workforce’s diversity data, including socio-economic diversity statistics. This has helped build a picture at national and regional level.

SRA data from 2021 on socio-economic background in law firms looks at parental occupation at age 14, school type and parental qualifications:

  • 23% of solicitors attended a fee-paying school (compared to 7.5% nationally)
  • 58% come from a professional background – meaning their parents were in occupations classified as professional rather than intermediate or working class (compared to 37% nationally)

Read more on how diverse law firms are

1. Measure – the crucial first step

To devise an evidence-based strategy for boosting social mobility in your workforce, it’s important to collect data on the socio-economic background of your employees and potential recruits.

We recommend you follow best practice guidance on collecting and analysing socio-economic data to help you:

  • better understand where intervention is needed
  • monitor progress

Employers have been using several questions to capture the socio-economic background of employees, but which is the best one?

“What was the occupation of your main household earner when you were aged 14?”

This is the key question recommended by the Social Mobility Commission to measure socio-economic diversity accurately and simply, alongside three other supplementary questions. 

The SRA already requires firms to collect data in a way that aligns with the recommended best practice.

We fed into a toolkit for financial and professional services which can help you to:

  • analyse your data
  • increase response rates

Read the Social Mobility Commission toolkit

2. How does your firm compare?

Socio-economic diversity varies between work types in different-sized law firms.

For instance, solicitors from large firms are more likely to have parents from a professional background and have attended a fee-paying school.

Compared to solicitors from firms doing mainly criminal work, solicitors doing mainly corporate work are:

  • half as likely to come from a lower socio-economic background (20% compared to 10%)
  • at least twice as likely to have been to a fee-paying school (33% compared to 13%)

The SRA data is broken down by:

  • seniority level
  • region
  • work type
  • number of branches, and
  • number of partners

This is helpful for comparing across firms similar to yours.

Compare your firm using the SRA diversity data tool

Check for cliff-edges in career progression
1. Break down your data  

Make sure you can look at a person’s socio-economic background and their seniority level. For example, partner or associate.

2. Analyse by seniority

Group seniority levels together and identify the percentage at each level by the three socio-economic background groupings: professional, intermediate, or working class.

3. Interpret for barriers

Is there equal or close to equal representation at each seniority level? Or does your data have a ‘cliff edge’, where those from lower socio-economic backgrounds suddenly fall off?

4. Adjust your strategy

Understanding where people from lower socio-economic backgrounds stop progressing will help you target interventions.

3. Plan for action

Once you’ve analysed the data to help prioritise your areas of focus, there are several actions you can take:

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