Shepherd and Wedderburn has joined 22 other legal practices in the UK to launch PRIME, a profession-wide undertaking to give fair access to quality work experience for young people from less privileged backgrounds.
Along with Brodies, Dundas & Wilson, Maclay Murray & Spens and McGrigors, Shepherd and Wedderburn have committed to provide schoolchildren from communities and schools which have traditionally been less likely to produce law graduates with work experience that gives an insight into the range of careers available in the legal profession and the potential routes into those careers.
As part of the commitment, which is supported by the Law Societies of Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland as well as The Sutton Trust, PRIME member firms will also help young people develop their personal and business skills.
The firms will provide an agreed number of work experience places for students in S2-S6 that meet a series of minimum standards:
- Firms must provide a number of places that is not less than 50% of the number of training contracts offered each year. The target for the profession is to provide 2,500 places by 2015, although firms that have already signed up must achieve their own individual target by July 2013.
- Minimum standards include at least 30-35 hours of work experience per place and a commitment to developing key business and personal skills in areas such as oral and written presentation, networking and negotiation. Firms must offer a way to maintain contact after work experience has ended and provide financial assistance during the programme.
In a joint statement the managing partners of the Scottish firms said: "We are delighted to support the PRIME initiative, which will widen access to the legal profession and build on the efforts many in the legal community have made to encourage young people from less privileged backgrounds to explore career opportunities in a vibrant and dynamic sector. Scotland's schools have long worked to encourage able children from all backgrounds to aspire to professional careers and we believe PRIME will provide an additional way of opening minds to opportunity.
"We are committed to attracting the brightest talent from communities across the country, irrespective of their social or financial circumstances. Providing high quality work experience and skills development support will not only enhance the prospects of the young people involved but also deliver tremendous benefits for the legal profession by attracting a new generation of motivated and gifted young people drawn from a much deeper pool of talent."
David Morley, senior partner of Allen & Overy and Chair of PRIME, said: “It's harder now than it was 30 years ago to get into the legal profession if you're from an average or below-average income family. As a profession, we must change that.
"By collaborating across the profession, PRIME will create a step change in the legal sector's commitment to fairer access, giving more students their first insight into the wide variety of career opportunities available in the legal sector. I would urge all law firms to join us in supporting PRIME."
Rt Hon Alan Milburn said: “The lack of social mobility in our society is not a problem that can be solved by any one organisation or any one sector. Sections of our society who play a part in the problem, and who have a stake in finding a solution, need to take collective responsibility and work together to provide meaningful solutions. The legal profession is a great example. If the cycle of unequal distribution of opportunity is to be broken, and the most talented people from all backgrounds are to be given a fair chance, the sector needs to act. And through the PRIME programme this is what it is doing."
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of The Sutton Trust, added: "We know that non-privileged young people have great difficulty in getting work placements that give them that vital first experience of the professions. I'm pleased to see that PRIME identifies and supports these young people, including those on free school meals and who have no family history of going to university."
The founding members of PRIME are: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Arthur Cox, Ashurst, Blake Lapthorn, Brodies, Clifford Chance, CMS Cameron McKenna, Dickinson Dees, DLA Piper, Dundas & Wilson, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Maclay Murray & Spens, McGrigors, Norton Rose, Pinsent Masons, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Slaughter and May and Trowers & Hamlins.