Spotlight on: Sutton Trust
As part of her presidential year plan, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce selected three charities to work with, including the Sutton Trust. Stephanie and CEO, James Turner, explain how the charity works to support an inclusive legal profession.
“At the outset of my term as president of the Law Society of England and Wales in March 2021, I set out seven priority areas that I would focus on during my time in office.
"One of these was to do more to challenge the stereotypes of what a solicitor should sound like, look like or where they should come from.
“Anyone with the necessary skills, knowledge and commitment to become a solicitor should be supported, enabled and empowered throughout their career.
"As president, it is my mission to leave the solicitor profession more diverse and inclusive than the one I entered, but this must be a shared mission, with each and every one of us playing our part.
"We want to show that people from all walks of life and backgrounds can make valuable contributions and achieve success in our profession.
“It is for this reason I am delighted to introduce the Sutton Trust, one of the organisations I have selected as a presidential charity and will support during my term in office.
“The Sutton Trust are a leading social mobility charity, working to increase educational opportunities for young people. Since 1997 they have worked to improve social mobility so that every young person has the chance to succeed in life regardless of their background.
“I recommend reading more about the work of the Sutton Trust below and getting involved in their crucial work in increasing the access of young people to the professions, including those in the legal sector.”
- I. Stephanie Boyce
James Turner, CEO of the Sutton Trust
“It’s a sobering truth that for a child born in the UK today, their chances in life are strongly linked to their parents’ income.
"Those from poorer families are less likely to end up going to the highest-performing schools, getting into the most prestigious universities and landing top jobs later in life.
“For almost 25 years, the Sutton Trust has worked to change this. We publish research that keeps social mobility and education inequality high on the government agenda and push for systems to change.
"We also provide direct support for over 5,000 young people each year through our programmes, which give sixth-formers from less advantaged backgrounds the tools they need to access leading universities and careers.
"Put simply, if an opportunity exists, we believe it should be equally open to those from lower income homes as their wealthier peers.
“A top priority for us is widening access to leading professions. Who holds the most influential and well-paid positions in society matters because their decisions affect our day-to-day lives – and it also matters because these roles should be full of the brightest and best talent the country has to offer, regardless of background.
"Yet young people from disadvantaged homes still face significant barriers to accessing the most competitive careers. The legal sector has an especially important role to play in promoting social mobility and we have a long history of working with them to do so.
“Almost two decades ago, we analysed the education backgrounds of the UK’s top lawyers. The findings were stark.
"In 1989, three quarters (76%) of top judges had attended independent schools, which educate just 7% of young people. By 2004, this figure had hardly changed (75%). We found similar patterns when looking at the backgrounds of top solicitors and barristers.
“The response from the legal sector was encouraging. Law had an access problem, that much was obvious. The sector could also see the benefits that improved social mobility would bring. What they wanted from us were practical, actionable solutions.
“And so began a partnership that is still flourishing almost two decades on. In that time, we’ve worked with dozens of law firms and chambers across the country to support thousands of teenagers from lower-income backgrounds to access careers in law.
"We were also one of the founding partners of PRIME, an alliance of law firms committed to improving socio-economic diversity within the legal profession.
"And at every step of the way, the Law Society has supported our work and made important links with others in the profession.
“Our flagship programme, Pathways to Law, works with students over a two-year period to increase their understanding of the sector, improve their essential life skills, and support their application to a leading university.
"Students attend regular sessions at their host university, covering both the academic subject of law and the various routes into it as career. They’re also given a work experience placement at a local or national law firm, chambers or in-house team.
“Launched in 2007, the programme now runs in 13 partner universities across the country. Our students are four times as likely as their classmates to accept an offer from a leading university and two-thirds of them go on to study law at university. Further support is offered during their undergraduate years.
"Some of our first alumni are now barristers and partners at major firms.
“These young people are the legal leaders of the future. And they’re a reminder that social mobility isn’t just about getting more lower-income students into graduate roles. It’s also about supporting these young people as they progress through their careers, making sure that they don’t encounter barriers that stop them reaching the top.
“Our hope is that our long-standing partnership with the legal profession continues to grow over the coming years.
"We’re always interested in hearing from members of the legal profession who are interested in supporting our work.
"In particular, we’re looking to build new relationships with firms who can offer placements to our students, especially those in regions outside of London. If you think you could help, then please do get in touch.
“And while seismic shifts in social mobility don’t happen overnight, every work placement, mentor or piece of careers advice we can offer to lower-income students take us a step closer to becoming a more meritocratic society.”