Last year Linklaters launched a virtual internship – the first of its kind among the legal profession. The magic circle firm believes launching such a programme has facilitated greater social mobility, by opening up the business to those who may not see themselves as a natural fit.
Linklaters launched the virtual internship for undergraduates in August 2019 with the goal to give those interested in a career in law a better idea of what Linklaters does. According to global co-head of fintech Fionnghuala Griggs, who is also a corporate lawyer, “perception” of the firm can deter people from applying to Linklaters – but the magic circle firm claims it does not want that.
Linklaters then followed up the move with a second virtual internship, launched this year. This time, the internship was aimed at those aged between 16 and 18 who might be interested in a career in law. So far, says Griggs, the programme has proved popular, with some 950 a-level or equivalent students signed up. Both programmes are open to any and all students who are interested.
David Martin, a corporate partner at Linklaters, is keen to point out social mobility is not always visible. He says many partners at Linklakers come from a diverse background, “but you wouldn’t know it because we tend to be focused on visible diversity.”
Martin grew up in rural west Wales – one of the poorest regions in northern Europe. He attended a comprehensive school before heading the University of Nottingham, where he studied law. He first became interested in Linklaters at a careers fair while at university, and ultimately joined the firm in 2000 having secured a training contract.
“Linklaters was one of a number of firms that came to present at the University and many friends on my course and others were keen to get a graduate level job and move to London,” he says. “Linklaters stood out for me, as the firm came across as down to earth and importantly people appeared to get on and enjoy each other’s company. Of course the objective criteria, quality of work, international opportunities, training, and so on, were important, but at that time it was harder to distinguish those factors, and the individuals at that stage made a positive impression.”
Martin says he can recognise why some people might be put off applying to Linklaters for fear they do not ‘fit the mould’ required to work at a magic circle law firm.
“That is why we invest time and effort reaching out to students to help them understand what a career with us is all about, our culture and values, and enabling students to get to know our people,” he continues. “At recruitment events we get so much feedback that we weren’t what people had expected. I encourage all of our teams to be very honest with future recruits.”
‘Feeling London is accessible is important’
Both internships appear to have had some success when it comes to social mobility. The university virtual internship has seen 20,600 enrolled on the programme to date from 671 universities globally. Where typically ‘Oxbridge’ graduates might be associated with a magic circle firm like Linklaters, a third of the universities with the most sign-ups are from outside of the Russell Group – in theory the UK’s 24 leading universities.
Regarding the newer virtual internship for those aged 16 – 18, 950 have signed up to the programme so far and 64% are from outside of London. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of interns are for non-fee paying schools.
The coronavirus has not put a stop to the firm’s plans. Martin has been doing virtual recruitment in light of the changes brought on by the coronavirus, which he says has increased access to the firm as people located in geographic cold spots – parts of the country that are not reached by social mobility – can attend.
“I think feeling that London is accessible, from all parts of the UK is really important,” he continues. “Coronavirus has been a negative, but from a recruitment perspective we’re getting access to people who wouldn’t have had access in the past.”
Social mobility and diversity and inclusion are certainly in vogue, but why does it matter to a successful law firm that has the pick of the bunch when it comes to top talent?
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” co-head of fintech Griggs says. “It’s right that we look at our recruitment and hiring strategies and make sure we’re being truly representative and that we have a culture that’s allowing people the opportunities to succeed and fulfill their potential.
“There’s also the business angle; having a more diverse workforce and a more inclusive culture in and of itself pays dividends. It is better for businesses to do that, and so of course it would be something we wanted to do, and ensure we have that diversity of thinking and of ideas in our workforce.”
Linklaters does not set social mobility targets. However, Griggs says it embeds social mobility into its recruitment process by using a contextualised recruitment system, which ensures when the firm is looking at an applicant it can see data that puts their achievements in context and recognises people who are outperforming based on factors like their education.
The firm has also scrapped its a-level requirements. “It’s about recognising people with potential and focusing on that potential, not their past achievements,” Griggs adds.