January 2011 - Blog Law’s elite pass over working-class talent Some elite London law firms are passing over well-qualified, white working-class job applicants in favour of middle-class graduates from elite universities who they think would be better for their image, new research says.

The firms studied had successfully recruited ethnic minority candidates as part of diversity programmes, but rejected able working-class students because their appearance or accent was not thought ‘smart’ enough.

Dr Louise Ashley of the Centre for Professional Service Firms at Cass Business School, which is part of City University London, interviewed 130 staff at five prominent London law firms, many of them in senior roles. Dr Ashley said that though the firms were publicly committed to diversity in the workplace, almost all of their lawyers came from more privileged backgrounds.

More than 90% of lawyers who took part in the research at the five firms had fathers who had been managers or senior officials, and at two of the firms more than 70% of lawyers were privately educated.

The elite firms told her that they didn’t recruit students from less prestigious universities because they believed they were less academically gifted. However, Dr Ashley found that the firms turned down candidates who looked or sounded working-class in order to preserve the upmarket brand, even when they were well qualified.

Her findings are due to be published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE this Wednesday 22 December. The article entitled ‘Making a Difference: The Use (and Abuse) of Diversity Management at the UK’s Elite Law Firms’ will be published in the Work, Employment and Society journal.