One of my favorite legal industry consulting friends, Ann Lee Gibson, sent a link to this article this morning with the subject line, “You say potato, I say tater.” Thinking that funny, I couldn’t imagine the referenced article could be anything but. The article is stunning in how un-funny it is.
This article appeared at www.thelawyer.com on December 21, 2010. Here is a link, as well as the article copied below. https://www.thelawyer.com/top-firms-reject-candidates-with-working-class-accents/1006459.article
I have also copied a handful of the comments to the article – readers were abuzz about this, which is no surprise.
Top firms reject candidates with ‘working class accents’
21 December 2010 | By Luke McLeod-Roberts
The UK’s top law firms are rejecting well-qualified candidates because their accents are too ’working class’, according to a new study.
Cass Business School
Research carried out by the Cass Business School shows that while elite firms have made strides on increasing recruitment of ethnic minorities into their ranks, working class applicants miss out because they do not fit with the brand.
A partner at one of five case study firms, all of which are in the UK top 20, told Cass Business School: “There was one guy who came to interviews who was a real Essex barrow boy, and he had a very good CV, he was a clever chap, but we just felt that there’s no way we could employ him. I just thought, putting him in front of a client – you just couldn’t do it.
“I do know though that if you’re really pursuing a diversity policy you shouldn’t see him as rough round the edges, I should just see him as different.”
Dr Louise Ashley at Cass Business School interviewed 130 staff at five prominent London law firms. More than 90 per cent of lawyers who took part in the research had fathers who had been managers or senior officials, and at two of the firms more than 70 per cent of lawyers were privately educated.
However, Ashley cautioned against simple solutions.
“It’s a very complex problem, blaming firms for social exclusion is like blaming the goalie for letting the ball through, responsibility doesn’t lie solely with them,” she said.” There’s a fear among some firms that if they recruit from the new universities, for example, then it will seem like they’re unable to recruit from traditional institutions. Law firms tend to move as a pack and it’ll take quite a brave firm to stand apart and do something different.”
She pointed to the experience of the big accountancy firms that have rolled out non-graduate entry routes into the profession in a more systematic way as a possible model to emulate.
The issue of social background has come increasingly onto the agenda following the publication of the Milburn Report, which found that the law was a “closed shop”.
Some firms such as Bird & Bird and Herbert Smith now provide mentoring and financial support to small groups of law students from deprived areas, while others, including Addleshaw Goddard, Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith and Linklaters, are starting to monitor the social background of their intake (8 November 2010).
However, Ashley argued that such initiatives were not purely a question of firms paying lip service to diversity.
“Firms often do this with good intentions, but there’s a gap between what the public rhetoric is and what the private rhetoric is,” she said. “You have things happening at a corporate level but they’re not necessarily carried through to the people doing recruitment.”
This comes after separate research found that the legal profession has become increasingly elitist in recent years, with the proportion of magic circle partners aged under 39 who were educated at public schools having risen from 59 per cent to 71 per cent between 1988 and 2004 (15 November 2010).
Readers’ comments (43)
- Miss Eliza Doolittle | 21-Dec-2010 12:19 pm
Cor blimey! Just as I Adam n’Eved it.
The rain in Spain really does stay mainly on the plains.
- Anonymous | 21-Dec-2010 12:21 pm
Substitute ‘real Essex barrow boy’ for ‘black’ and there would have been uproar…
- Anonymous | 21-Dec-2010 12:46 pm
Oxford and Cambridge universities in particular have worked hard over the past 15 years to make their intakes more socially and racially diverse. In more recent years, as soon as those universities approach their targets, the City law firms publicize that they want to recruit from other universities.
One can’t help but think that the change in policy by the City law firms is designed to keep the racially and socially disadvantaged groups out. What hasn’t changed is that the vast majority of those who work as solicitors in City law firms were educated in the private sector.
They go from prep school to boarding school to City law firm feeder university to a City law firm. The close pedigree ties they maintain throughout life aren’t from the days of slumming with the wrong social group at university or law school but largely from the Old Boys Club.
We’ve all seen groups of underprivileged school children being carted around the meeting rooms of law firms. However, I can’t help but think that those children are expected to grow up to become legal secretaries, not rainmakers.
It’s all very well for someone like Lord Sugar to write a book about his rag to riches tale once he has made millions. It’s easy for his unforgiving regional accent to be accepted. Sadly, for every Lord Sugar there are hundreds of talented individuals who are not given a break by the City.
This article does not surprise me at all. In fact, I wonder why the research has been presented as new information.
- Anonymous | 21-Dec-2010 1:09 pm
The big four accountancy firms are just as bad despite what this report might say.
Your Essex barrow boy may get to the Senior Manager ranks but this will not be in London and he won’t be let loose on the International scene. Drop an ‘aitch’ or even worse, pronounce it Haitch and you will be condemned to the backwaters of audit in Reading. Don’t know how to use a knife and fork properly (NOT like a pen) and your path to partnership will be blocked.
That’s the reality of the top tiers in any profession.
- ray winstone | 21-Dec-2010 1:21 pm
Don’t blur the lines between social exclusion and blatant racism “Anonymous” posting at 12.21pm. 2 both serious issues which deserve their attention in the right intelligent forum without flippant remarks such as your comment.
- Anonymous | 21-Dec-2010 1:27 pm
People should certainly not be discriminated against because of regional accents. However, I wouldn’t think twice about rejecting a candidate who litters their interview with ‘yeah’ and ‘coz’ – two staples of the barrow boy – and god help the first interviewee to mutter ‘innit’ in my presence.
As a born, bred and state-educated Essex girl I manage to get through the working day without reverting to what has become my regional dialect. If you want me to give you a job, you can manage it for an hour.
- Scep Tick | 21-Dec-2010 1:56 pm
As a victim of accent-ism I can endorse these findings. The big law firms form a self-perpetuating oligarchy. It’s not as if law is difficult or needs expertise…when times were good everyone made money, when times were bad everyone made less money. Get a monopoly on a service, and you can be hideously incompetent at everything yet still make money. So those in charge don’t ever face real competition from those who know what they are doing but happen to be from Birmingham, or Liverpool, or Newcastle.
- Robbi | 21-Dec-2010 2:02 pm
Anonymous 12.46pm – you have made sweeping generalizations about the recruitment of City lawyers. I trained and qualified at a Magic Circle firm and we were a truly heterogeneous bunch at all levels. My Leeds University and comprehensive education didn’t matter a jot.
- Anonymous | 21-Dec-2010 2:12 pm
When I was a trainee at a large city firm I was constantly mocked for my ‘posh’ accent whereas the people with mockney accents were seen to be ‘good lads’. I think these things go both ways and people should just deal with people for their abilities.
- The Essex Barrow Boy | 21-Dec-2010 2:16 pm
If the chinless wonder concerned had made such a comment about someone with an ethnic accent he would have quite rightly lost his career. I really do not understand what accent has to do with anything, attainment and ability are everything, I seem to recall us “Essex Barrow Boys” have done very well in the City over the years! Law firms need to wake up and join the 21st century.