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Despite Best Intentions, Legal Profession Diversity Stagnant in England

ThinkstockPhotos-486126081As in the U.S., the British have recognized racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in the legal profession and have pursued strategies for greater diversity and upward mobility in the bar and bench. According to a report out today, the strategies aren't working. Elite private school graduates, where minority populations are underrepresented, still dominate. Today's report notes that the proportion of top judges and prosecutors from the elite schools has decreased only slightly since the 1980s. Three-quarters of top judges and 71% of top QCs attended private schools.  (This 2014 report in the Guardian gives a more comprehensive picture of elite school dominance in UK society overall.)

Notably, stagnant mobility in the U.K. legal profession does not appear to be the result of active resistance to the proposition that more diversity is beneficial. According to the survey, 52% of the "senior figures in the legal industry" polled said that improving social mobility in the legal profession would be beneficial to their firm.  71% agreed that improved social mobility would benefit society as a whole. But the reasons given for not hiring more candidates from "disadvantaged" backgrounds suggest that a change is not coming soon. Respondents pointed to "presentation at interview" as the main barrier to getting law firm training contracts, followed by lack of pre-university educational attainment and lack of understanding of the profession and business.

A host of neuroscience studies explain how the same leaders who openly embrace the value of diversity make decisions based on implicit bias that undermine their best intentions. Take this test to find out how this science applies to your own brain.

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