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Diversity Matters: Social Mobility

Our latest event, Diversity Matters: Social Mobility, took place on Thursday, 22 July. Attendees from across the globe joined the online event where we brought together passionate voices from the legal community to discuss the importance of social mobility within the legal profession.

By Cara Fielder. Published 27 July 2021. Last updated 14 September 2022.

ULaw Director of Equality Patrick Johnson hosted the evening and kicked off the event by saying, “This event is a welcoming space to discuss, encourage and advocate for diversity and inclusion.” He went on to introduce the first speaker, alumnus and Employment Rights Solicitor Sam Butler.

Sam talked about the Law Society’s focus on accessibility and success in the legal profession, his own story, and what is needed to tackle the participation gap for those from working class backgrounds.

“Seven percent of the population is privately educated and roughly 50% of lawyers are. That increase to 65% when we look at the judiciary. I think it’s fair to say that the judiciary is probably the most socially elite professional in the UK…but class diversity is becoming more of an issue and is making slow and steady progress. For example, the number of state educated judges actually rose for a very small four percent in 2014 to thirteen percent, massive comparatively, in 2019.”

He added: “Have confidence in yourself and in your own competence. Wherever you get to, you’re there for a reason; you can’t wing it all the way into the profession. If you’ve got to university, you’ve done so on merit, in spite of structural educational barriers. If you get work experience, you’ve done so on merit, in spite, perhaps, of a lack of contacts or access.”

Our second speaker was alumna Liah Roberts, a trainee solicitor at FieldFisher. Liah shared her experience of starting a legal career in London, having come from a traditional working-class background.

“Social mobility is a lot about the money and the resources you have available to you when you’re growing up and that your parents or family have available to them. But I think there’s so much more to it, and part of that is cultural capital that people from a working class background don’t have. That’s the experiences you have growing up and the things you’re exposed to and your hobbies and interests, and things you’re encouraged to do with your spare time. Also the social capital, the people you have around you, your network and the people that you can talk to and be inspired by exposed to.”

Liah was followed by our third speaker, ULaw London Moorgate Campus Dean Caroline Carter. As the first member in her family to go to university, Caroline described her journey from a state comprehensive school in the North-East of England to the City as a law firm partner and then Dean of a leading law school.

“We can’t dictate where we are born in the world; we’re given this gift of life and we land where we land, and we’re lucky where we land. In this country there are many obstacles for people but you can actually navigate your way through and there are lots and lots of avenues now where you can find help and chart a path to get you to where you want to be. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life sitting out and being defeatist; you want to get up and join in with that dance.”

Our fourth and final speaker of the evening was recent ULaw alumna Musa Nela. Musa shared his journey of coming to the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeker to completing his law degree and enter the ULaw Change the World Fund competition. He shared why it’s important to ensure candidates are employed based on their skills and abilities, not by their status.

“I applied to The University of Law as an asylum seeker; I never knew that I would be accepted, I never knew if I would start university. When I was first accepted at The University of Law, I received an offer to study the LLB with Business as an asylum seeker. This showed me that the University would welcome me whatever my background is or what was my immigration status. Fortunately for me, before I started University that summer, I was granted leave to remain, and I was able to apply for student finance, and everything was sorted. I don’t think I had shared with anyone at the University that I was an asylum seeker; I was still a bit scared that I was going to be judged. But it turned out that The University of Law is so welcoming that it doesn’t care about your background.”

After their talks, all the speakers returned to the digital stage to take questions from the audience. These include requests for advice on what students can do to improve awareness and the barriers to improving social mobility.

Post-event, attendees who wished to discuss social mobility further could network in the online expo booths.


Learn more about our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion events and participants now.