Three-quarters of the UK’s leading judges and QCs attended the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, a new study says.
Research by the Sutton Trust and an alliance of law firms found that 74 per cent of the 147 High Court and Appeal Court judges attended the institutions, compared with only 1 per cent of the UK population as a whole.
Among the 100 top QCs, as ranked by legal directory Chambers UK, 78 per cent went to Oxford or Cambridge.
The Sutton Trust and Prime, a group of 89 law firms that are committed to providing fair access to work experience, have expressed concern that the educational background of leading lawyers has changed little since the 1980s.
Among leading solicitors, again as rated by Chambers UK, 55 per cent were Oxbridge-educated.
The study also found that more than 70 per cent of leading judges and QCs had attended independent schools, compared with 7 per cent of the UK population.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that there was “still a big social mobility problem within the legal sector”.
“Irrespective of background, bright young people need to be able to achieve his or her potential and access jobs in law if that is their chosen profession,” he said. “Enabling greater access to a wider pool of diverse talent will deliver real benefits for employers and employees alike.”
A poll of senior figures in the legal industry, conducted by YouGov, found that 52 per cent of respondents felt that improving social mobility in the legal profession would be beneficial to their firm. Seventy-one per cent said that it would be good for society as a whole.
When asked what was preventing candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds from getting law training contracts, 23 per cent of those questioned said that interview performance was a key barrier. This was followed by a lack of pre-university educational attainment (18 per cent) and lack of understanding of the profession (16 per cent).
The Sutton Trust said that more legal firms should join Prime and its own Pathways to Law programme.