Collaboration. Partnership. Making a difference. Social mobility.

These were just a few of the key words and phrases that kept cropping up at the PRIME Conference on 8th February.

As Chair of PRIME, I was delighted to welcome over 83 members, partners, and PRIME alumni to join us for what proved to be an inspiring day of discussions, idea sharing and commentary around social mobility in the legal profession.

The Lord Holmes of Richmond set the tone perfectly with his entertaining and thought provoking keynote speech. As he said, “Talent is everywhere. Opportunity isn’t,” summing up the entire ethos of PRIME perfectly. We want to provide opportunity to talent regardless of their background. As he encouraged us to “look through a different lens” to ensure that change can happen, I could see people nodding their heads in agreement.

We took that thought into an engaging panel discussion on ‘Moving the Needle’ expertly chaired by leading diversity campaigner, Funke Abimbola MBE. We were privileged to hear from PRIME alumna and future Hogan Lovells’ trainee, Megan Stewart, as she told the room that she “would not be sitting here today were it not for the social mobility schemes I was involved in.”

Megan brought the PRIME experience ‘alive’ by talking about her personal experience. As she said, giving social mobility programmes a greater profile is the key to getting more young people from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in the legal profession. But also realising that there needs to be more opportunities for young people to engage with programmes early on to help them to see the possibilities for them in their future careers at a young age. And, leading on from that, the need to extend placement opportunities out from London and the big cities, and into regions throughout the UK.

CEO of The Bridge Group, Nicholas Miller, had some food for thought around work experience that, research has shown, makes the biggest difference to helping young people to access their future careers. Alarmingly, however, this is an area that is being cut from the school curriculum in an increasing number of schools.

Another theme that cropped up – both in the panel discussion and in the presentation on the Social Mobility Index – was about good business practice. As both Anneka Hendrick of Birkbeck, University of London and Malcolm Gomersall of Grant Thornton (ranked top of the 2017 Social Mobility Index) agreed ‘social mobility isn’t just about doing good, it’s good for business.’ And of course, it’s also good for society.

Our panel discussions and presentations fed into the round table session at the end of the conference, which gave all of our members the chance to discuss more fully the challenges, ideas and resources around aspects such as targeting ‘cold spots’ around the UK where there is currently no PRIME opportunity for young people; providing opportunities for joint working among members to enhance their PRIME programmes; mentoring and maintaining contact with PRIME alumni; data collection and engaging and working with teachers. The ideas that this session generated were interesting – and worthy of an entire post for each subject alone. What they have given us is a priority list of projects that the PRIME Board will now use as a focus for the next stage of development.

I left at the end of a day of discussion around social mobility, not tired, but enthused and excited by the thought of a future where, ironically, PRIME won’t exist as we will no longer be needed. Social mobility will be the norm. We will look through a different lens to the point where our definition of what talent means will have changed. And that means, we will stop disadvantaging people because of their background.

We’re a long way off from that and so, for now, my priority along with the rest of the board, is focused very much on leading PRIME forward to the next stage, working with members, partners and students to increase opportunities within the legal profession to those talented young people who need it most.

 

This article by PRIME Chair, Nicholas Cheffings, originally featured on LinkedIn, February 2018.

 

You can view the full conference here:

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