It's easy to think that everyone who works in the City, and particularly in law firms, is upper middle class and maybe got to where they are because of who they know or where they went to school. For those of us who come from a different background, we understand, and can often be conscious of the fact, that that isn't our reality. That said, unless I told you where I grew up and what my background was, you wouldn't know that the world of law was alien to me when I first started out. 

While I had been interested in a career in law for a long time, I never really had any insight into how to forge a career in the legal profession, never mind at a firm like Akin Gump. I didn't have family or friends who were lawyers, and I didn't really have access to people who could give me more information. I felt, at times, others were more clued up about how to break into the profession than I was. It's because I understand what that's like, that I'm really pleased that Akin Gump has chosen to partner with the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) to invite AS-level students from outside London to spend a week at the firm and find out what working at a law firm is all about.

Our relationship with the SMF began a few years ago when we ran our first internship with them and now I'm glad to say that we are a formal partner on the SMF's APP Law Residential Programme. This year was the third time we've run the programme and the first time we've held it in-person. Over a week in August, we had interns in from social mobility cold spots as far away as Wales, Newcastle and Coventry to join us at our London office.

For the interns, it was a chance to see and experience how law firms work and to hear first-hand from lawyers, business service professionals, and even in-house lawyers at a client about their working life. I think it's a testament to the culture we have at Akin Gump that one intern who was very shy at the beginning of the week told us “the atmosphere has been very welcoming,” and that, by the last day, they “felt very comfortable walking around the office.” 

It is important to me that we run this programme because I strongly feel a career in law shouldn't be based on who you know or where you went to school. Akin Gump is keen to extend opportunities to those that wouldn't otherwise get them, which extends to how we recruit and interview new lawyers and candidates. Levelling the playing field isn't easy, and there's still work to be done. One of our interns came to us with the view that top tier law firms are “elitist” but, having spent time with us, left believing that “my merits, and my merits only, would be considered during my pathway into the legal profession,” which is encouraging to hear and should definitely be the case.

One important reason we are keen to extend these opportunities is that, without diversity in the candidates they recruit, law firms also don't have diversity of thought, so there are obvious benefits to choosing lawyers from a wider pool of talent. It can be daunting walking in to any new job or work environment, especially when your new colleagues don't look or sound like you, and when you see how everyone around you behaves and hear how they speak, it is easy to think that the best way forward is to mould yourself to that model - I'm sure the people I grew up with would be surprised to hear how diluted my Dudley accent has become.

However, these differences between us, be they regional accents, socio-economic background, race, gender or sexuality, are actually what give us a different outlook to the next person and a different perspective on problem-solving for clients. Rather than telling people to fit in with the others, we should embrace the fact that we're able to mix so many people together and benefit from it. That's why a programme like the internship we run with the SMF is so important, it allows us to speak to and work alongside people we possibly wouldn't have before.

I'm looking forward to running this programme again next year and I'm excited to meet the interns that will join us.

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