Over the years, there has been a trend in firms and other organisations towards targeting young people about careers at ever earlier stages.

Striving to ensure that talent – irrespective of where it comes from – can reach its full potential has always been ‘the right thing to do’, but it is only comparatively recently that organisations have started to consider the impact of social mobility on their ability to attract, recruit and retain talented people.

I have seen a genuine shift in the mindset of commercial law firms with respect to addressing the challenges of social mobility and engaging schools and young people specifically about careers. Several factors can be said to have contributed to this shift: principal amongst them is the importance of diversity data, and the need to tell our story more clearly, and demystify our world for others.

The push to engage young people in Further Education has been driven in part by a desire to find the best talent, but also help young people make more informed decisions about their future career path and have access to accurate information, high quality experiences and authentic perspectives.

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and Social Mobility

At Linklaters, aside from aspiring to be a ‘best in class’ law firm, we want to be ‘best in class’ for D&I. As with most things, it is an ongoing journey, but commercially speaking, it is essential to our overarching mission to provide clients with as much legal certainty as we can in a changing world: diverse teams look at commercial matters from different perspectives and can relate to our global client base in different ways.

Without that we risk not offering our clients the best, context-sensitive solutions to their challenges. Several reports point to the positive benefits of diversity to businesses.

Social mobility is one aspect of D&I that we are particularly focused on – especially in the UK where round half of our people globally are based.

Social mobility is one aspect of D&I that we are particularly focused on – especially in the UK where round half of our people globally are based.

In addition, we are the biggest hirer of trainee lawyers in the UK; we offer around 100 training contracts a year in London with a similar number of Vacation Scheme places as well as first-year university taster course places, Pathfinder. As a firm, we have made strides in recent years in terms of the diversity of our people but it is not yet where we would necessarily want it to be.

School engagement and social mobility

For years, our Corporate Responsibility function has been the focal point for school engagement work. Their work with volunteers from our business to support schools, third sector organisations and pupils and NEETs locally has contributed to raised aspiration in a general sense and improved grade attainment particular instances. The work that they do spans primary, secondary and further education where their work crosses over with my team’s activities.

In London, we have worked with school senior leadership teams and pupils in Hackney for many years in multi-year agreements. Corporate Responsibility has recently extended this activity to Tottenham. In both areas, we mentor students, host workplace visits and provide high quality work experience to offer and insight into City careers.

Graduate Recruitment team is fully engaged in this activity as are the functions hosting directly-employed apprentices, ensuring that we demonstrate social mobility in practice. A good example of this is the firm’s work with Clapton Girls’ Academy.

Career-driven engagement at 16-18

Over the years, collaboration between Linklaters functional teams has gradually increased, with greater signposting of opportunities to young people, sharing of learning materials and resources as well as infrastructure.

Through Corporate Responsibility, Graduate Recruitment and my team, we have engaged experts in diversity and student engagement to broaden our reach – particularly amongst underrepresented populations for the firm. It is common practice for firms like ours to work in this way with social enterprises, charities and ethical companies as they work directly with young people. Currently, few work with stakeholders like schools and parents directly, but this is an area we have started to look at more.

Organisations like Rare, SEO London, the Sutton Trust (through their Pathways to Law programme) and the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) find and support young people from ethnic minority or socio-economically less advantaged backgrounds who are academically able and interested in exploring our industry areas. Through them we provide structured development programmes, involving talks, workshops and – in the case of SMF and the Sutton Trust – week-long work experience programmes.

Our support goes beyond career insights.

Our support goes beyond career insights. For law, although there are firms who take on legal apprentices, at Linklaters we hire currently only via the university graduate route. Before joining as a trainee, candidates would need to study for up to two additional years (which we pay for) at law school before joining the firm as a trainee though this system will be changing soon as a result of the soon-to-be introduced Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The relevance of pure career advice to Further Education students is diminished by a 3-5-year gap before they can apply to us, and so at that stage we tend to channel our efforts towards skills development relevant to studies and being a lawyer, and offering relevant and timely support for things like university applications and making the most of the university experience once they are there. In this way, we feel we can really help students unlock their own potential.

In that respect, and in addition to the aforementioned organisations, we partner The Access Project and Target Oxbridge to offer university support to candidates from lower-socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups (there is often an intersection with social mobility, race and ethnicity in the UK). The Sutton Trust even works with the Fulbright Scholarship to offer fully funded places to low-income students to American Ivy league universities.

Having mentored on Target Oxbridge myself, the focus of these programmes is to ensure that students fairly consider applying to the best universities that they can. A regular message we communicate to students (and their parents) is that they do not necessarily have to study law at undergraduate level to become a lawyer in the UK. In fact, around 40% of our intake each year will have studied anything from Biochemistry and Languages to History or Economics.

Our advice in general is that it is probably better for students to pursue a course that they will enjoy rather than one that points to a career (with the notable exceptions of Engineering, Medicine and other more niche vocational courses) as they are more likely to perform better as well as enjoy the academic experience more.

We cannot do everything ourselves and so we have put a lot of effort into our collaborations with clients and other organisations to augment our impact.

We also work with widening participation teams at universities with which we have existing relationships. We work with Sutton Trust Summer Schools and Conference and SMF programmes but we fund some programmes, including the Linklaters Oxford Law Access Ambassadors, Linklaters Scholarship at Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity Access Programme at Trinity College Dublin.

Whilst a lot of our focus as a firm has been on helping disadvantaged students, we recognise that a lot of students lack access to quality advice. We cannot do everything ourselves and so we have put a lot of effort into our collaborations with clients and other organisations to augment our impact. Separately though, we have also looked to build out our online offering to democratise access to information. We also use online conferencing systems for presentation sessions, workshops and keep in touch activity.

We are members of industry initiatives like PRIME, which seeks to open up access to our profession through meaningful work experience and partner with leading research bodies like The Bridge Group and Social Mobility Employer Index.

Our social media presence has grown significantly with regular updates on Facebook, LinkedIn (there are some students there), Twitter and YouTube.

Other more general sites like Law Careers.Net and The Lawyer Portal and apps like Debut also offer students information online.

Watch out for more information on exciting developments on our Graduate Recruitment Careers site soon.

Introducing Making Links

In December 2018, we launched a new initiative called Making Links. It has a diversity element embedded but the overall aim is to support the growth and development of young talent around the world with a focus on where they are going rather than where they are from. Making Links seeks to break down some of the perceived barriers to applying for roles at our firm:

  • Awareness of the opportunity
  • Access to the opportunity
  • Experience and insights into the role
  • Understanding of the skills required for success
  • Ability to imagine oneself doing the job – role modelling is key here

Over time, Making Links will seek to achieve several goals:

  • Offer experiences and information that can aid informed decision making about careers
  • Start a dialogue between young people, schools and our people on how we can support the careers agenda sustainably and meaningfully
  • Tell our story in an authentic way to realign perceptions, explode myths and show honestly who we are and what we do

Storytelling and breaking down preconceptions

Storytelling is a key element of Making Links, and the videos we have produced about our people telling their stories, we hope, will show those unsure that there is no Linklaters type. We launched the series with Sebastian, a future trainee.

Here, you can have a sneak preview of Hope, a trainee at the firm.

and Katharine, an Associate.

There will be much more to come from this series.

Developing talent

The Making Links Schools Challenge is our exciting new competition that designed to provide a platform for state school-educated students currently completing A-Levels (or equivalent) in the UK to develop some of the skills commercial lawyers of the future will need.

With prizes for students and for their schools, it is hoped that the Challenge will be a regular feature in our schools’ engagement agenda, and one that might help schools (in England, at least) meet some of their Gatsby Benchmarks.

The world of tomorrow will be very different to today and so too will the skills and abilities of tomorrow’s legal professionals. Already, Innovation is a big story at Linklaters with our lawyers and professionals using artificial intelligence and big data solutions and many of us learning how to code. We want to equip students with the skills they will need in the future, and also explore ways of collaborating with schools and pupils nationally around how we can support the careers agenda effectively and sustainably.

For us talent comes from everywhere: I always say, for every Charlie Bucket and Matilda, there is a Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, and none of them had a choice over their parentage! As recruiters though we are learning to be more aware that the field is not a level one socially, culturally, economically or geographically, and in that regard, understanding one’s background is crucial to contextualising achievement and offer timely support.

Early interventions with information, advice and first-hand experiences can make a real difference to perceptions and informed decision making, which is why making links and connections is key at the Further Education stage.

We want to facilitate that where we can to ensure that everyone has the chance to maximise their potential and be their best, most authentic selves whilst doing it. The benefits for us, our communities and individuals are clear as happy and empowered people are more effective and productive people.

Linklaters, in collaboration with seven global law firms, has worked with the Bridge Group to produce the first ever study on the correlation between background characteristics and early career progression in the legal profession. Read the research here.