How the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination could improve social mobility in law

Removing barriers to social mobility in the legal profession will enable it to become more relatable to ordinary people, a young trainee at a start-up law firm has said.

Breaking barriers: Brittany Clark is currently doing a graduate solicitor apprenticeship at the Elland office of law firm Holden Smith.

Brittany Clark is currently doing a graduate solicitor apprenticeship at the Elland office of law firm Holden Smith.

The 21-year-old, who comes from a working-class family in Oldham, is one of the first cohort of young would-be lawyers going through the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) process.

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Ms Clark told The Yorkshire Post that a key reason why law firms should look to improve social mobility is that usually “people can’t relate” to the profession.

Breaking barriers: Brittany Clark is currently doing a graduate solicitor apprenticeship at the Elland office of law firm Holden Smith.

She added: “They don’t want someone that they feel is patronising them. Obviously, it’s a job where you’ve got to trust who you’re putting your money in and who you’re trusting with confidential documents. You’ve got to trust them completely but people can’t relate to it.”

According to data collected by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the summer of 2019, 21 per cent of lawyers went to a fee-paying school compared to just 7 per cent of the general population.

Holden Smith, which is based in Denby Dale, was founded in 2019 by James Smith, David Bancroft and Jamie Megson.

Mr Smith embraces the fact that they are young lawyers and look to break down the “stuffiness” of a traditional law firm.

Ms Clark says the route to becoming a fully qualified solicitor would usually be a lot longer than the one she currently faces.

“I should have finished that course and had my last exams by June 2023,” she said. “I should be done and qualified by then.”

The graduate solicitor apprentice couldn’t afford to go back to university and not work and therefore would have had to go part-time with her studies.

Then she also would have had to go and find qualifying work experience to enable her to become a solicitor.

“It’s cut a lot of time off my education,” she said. “I’m grateful for that.”

One of the ways that the legal profession can improve social mobility is by offering more work experience opportunities to people from working class backgrounds.

Ms Clark said: “The hardest thing I found was work experience. I do feel the legal profession could work on giving people a chance, which is what it comes down to.

“I know that a lot of people just don’t want to take a chance on anyone.

“I feel that to open it up a little bit more they need to offer different schemes and not just in the summer because some people, who are at university, work in the summer.

“I worked in the summer even though I was at university so I couldn’t just take two weeks off work to go on a scheme.

“That wasn’t doable but I would potentially be able to do one day a week over however many weeks that they would put out.

“I think having different options for work experience would open it up a lot more.”

She also believes that financial support such as grant schemes should factor in additional responsibilities that individuals from working class families may face.

“If people have got siblings or they are a carer for someone it would make it very difficult for them to go into the profession,” Ms Clark says.

Ms Clark herself would sometimes have to pick her little sister up from school as her mum worked night shifts.

The young trainee’s ultimate ambition is to see that her work has had a positive impact.

“That would be quite satisfying,” she says.

Documentaries spurred interest

Brittany Clark’s interest in law began very early on while she was at secondary school. Ms Clark and her mother would watch crime documentaries.

When she studied law at sixth form, Ms Clark “enjoyed it a lot more” than she thought she would. It also got her interested in other areas of law other than criminal law.

“I knew then, after I had done it at sixth form, that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

Ms Clark graduated from the University of Law in Manchester last year and joined Holden Smith at the beginning of this year. She said: “I started at Holden Smith at the end of January but the SQE started at the end of February.”

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