Avoiding Oxbridge Bias; Law for Undergraduates

From The Practice November/December 2014
Highlighting key stories about the profession you may have missed.

Avoiding Oxbridge bias

A UK firm has adopted a “school-blind” hiring policy—and seen its incoming associates’ diversity of educational background rise sharply.

Clifford Chance, a British “Magic Circle” firm and the fifth-largest law firm in the world according to revenue, recently adopted a final-round hiring process that reveals only the name of the candidate to hiring managers. Educational background is not provided. “We’re looking for the gems, and they’re not all in the jeweler’s shop,” a firm manager told The Independent.

In its first year of operation, the policy has seen a 30 percent rise in educational diversity; 100 incoming spots were filled in 2013 with applicants from 41 schools. The policy has also resulted in a third more first-generation graduates than the firm’s previous recruitment program.

We’re looking for the gems, and they’re not all in the jeweler’s shop.

In the past, Britain’s Russell Group schools—its 24 highest-ranked universities, which include Oxford and Cambridge—have made up the majority of law firm hires. Nearly 40 percent of hires at the five firms that make up the Magic Circle came from Oxford and Cambridge alone in 2010.

“The overall object is to make sure we never lose out on talent, wherever it comes from,” said Laura Yeates, Clifford Chance graduate recruitment and development manager. “We need to make sure we have the very best people spread out across the whole of the UK in terms of institutions.”

It remains to be seen whether US firms will adopt a similar approach.

Read more about Clifford Chance’s hiring practices here.

Law for undergraduates

In June 2014, the University of Arizona began enrolling undergraduate majors in a new bachelor of arts degree in law. The degree is a collaboration between the university’s School of Government and Public Policy, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and James E. Rogers College of Law.

The major is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the program’s promotional material. But is it? Other US schools, including the University of California–Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, and Northwestern, have long offered legal studies programs, and pre-law undergraduate majors are common. Champlain College, in Vermont, also launched a bachelor of science in legal studies in 2011 that offers law school–like courses.

The University of Arizona says such programs are often focused primarily on social sciences and humanities courses taught by non-law school faculty, and do not address direct study of the law. “Unlike legal studies and pre-law programs, the B.A. in law will provide undergraduate law students with the core competencies and skills required for law-related work,” the school’s website notes.

After taking foundational courses in the School of Government and Public Policy, students in the new program will go on to courses such as contracts, torts, constitutional law, and criminal and civil procedure, all taught by law school faculty. They can also pursue an accelerated B.A.-J.D. path, completing both degrees in six years.

Questions about the novelty of the degree aside, it may be a bellwether of changing times. “The B.A. in law will prepare undergraduates for numerous law-related careers for which legal education is beneficial, but for which a J.D. is not required,” Brent White, associate dean at the College of Law, told the school’s newspaper, the UA News. “It also responds to structural changes we are seeing in the legal profession where some legal work is now being performed by non-lawyers.”