News and Publications

Social Mobility Awareness Day 2022

Posted: 16/06/2022

Penningtons Manches Cooper and the firm’s socioeconomic committee are proud to support Social Mobility Awareness Day 2022. The committee have drawn together information about social mobility, their personal experiences, and how the firm actively seeks to promote a diverse workforce that includes those from low income or less privileged backgrounds.

Rebecca Carlyon, the sponsoring partner of our socioeconomic committee, says:

“We’re proud to support Social Mobility Awareness Day. Supporting people from low income backgrounds is an often overlooked strand of inclusion, and so we are excited to be involved in this new annual event which will raise awareness and start conversations.

“Research overwhelmingly shows that a diverse working environment is a happier, more profitable, and more productive environment. The committee aims to be involved at an early stage, helping to put in place initiatives to identify and support candidates who will go on to become great lawyers, or members of our central team, and stand out from their peers, despite their economic circumstances and the barriers to education that they may have encountered.

“I feel strongly that everyone should have a fair chance to prove themselves, equipped with the knowledge and confidence that we can help them obtain.”

Promoting positive socioeconomic change at Penningtons Manches Cooper

Our learning and development team is committed to helping realise our vision and ambitions around socioeconomic change with targeted training and learning initiatives. For example, this September,  we will be running a series of best practice interview training modules. These modules will be aimed at our senior people from across the business who are regularly involved in the recruitment process for experienced hires, and will include learning how to mitigate the biases around socioeconomic background that can arise during selection, interview and hiring decisions.

This training initiative is part of a full review of our entire recruitment structure and processes. Other initiatives include:

  • CV application clinics for vacation scheme and training contract applicants from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • An A-level work experience programme, with a focus on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • In September 2022, the launch of a grant from the Penningtons Manches Cooper Foundation, which will pay the tuition fees for a student from a low socioeconomic background completing their law degree.
  • Making D&I ambassadors available through our careers website, to encourage those interested in pursuing a career with us to connect with employees from similar backgrounds to find out more about working at Penningtons Manches Cooper.
  • Partnering with organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors, PRIME, and Social Mobility Business Partnership to support our social mobility inclusion efforts and widen access to the profession.

Experiences from some of our socioeconomic committee members

Katie Glendinning, managing associate, employment:
“I firmly believe that businesses are stronger with high levels of diversity within the workforce.  For those from a low socio-economic background (like myself), increased transparency of those with similar backgrounds across all sectors and at all levels is important. It is difficult to be what you can’t see.

“Unlike many from low income families, I was fortunate to attend a very good state school who encouraged my ambitions and opened my mind to a range of possible career paths that I would not otherwise have considered or even known about. My brothers and I were the first generation to go to university, I had no professional connections to lean on and I worked alongside my studies, from GCSE year and throughout my higher education. I do not believe I would be where I am now without the work ethic and attitude that my upbringing instilled in me but I also acknowledge that without the support I had along the way, I would not have had the self-belief to pursue or the knowledge of how to obtain a career as a solicitor.

“I am proud to be a Penningtons Manches Cooper employee, with its increased focus on improving social mobility, and to act as one of its diversity and inclusion mentors, to help break down barriers, try to be a visible role model and provide support and guidance to others from a similar background to myself.”

Lee Henderson, senior associate, family:
“I believe that a low income background should not be a bar to pursuing a desired career. 

“In year 7 I wrote in my National Record of Achievement that I wanted to be a lawyer (though I’m not entirely sure I knew at the time what a lawyer actually did, only that it was something people far away in big cities did). It seemed unattainable – I was at a state school in Norfolk, the eldest of four siblings, moving from living with my mother to my father, and with no professional connections at all. Even university was an alien concept, no-one in my family having attended before.

“Fast forward 25 years and I am able to look back on a degree in philosophy, followed by a move to London and then four years of part-time study (GDL and LPC) whilst working full-time to fund it all, then qualification as a solicitor and a move to an international law firm. I am now the chair of the firm’s socioeconomic committee and a regular mentor to those from backgrounds similar to mine. 

“In my view, attitude is key, but so is support. I was fortunate enough to meet people along the way who supported and encouraged me, who were not put off by my background or that I was coming into the law late.”

“I am proud of the work Penningtons Manches Cooper does to ensure that background is not a bar to a career at the firm.” 

Rebecca Foster, associate, employment:
“I am proud to have been able to obtain my dream career despite also having come from a low-income background.

“I was raised on what was once known as a notorious council estate in London and I attended a state school. Having been told by a careers advisor at the age of 11 that my chances of becoming a lawyer were slim (due to my background), a career in law felt unattainable to me at the time.

“Following completion of my A-levels, I graduated from a non-Russell Group university with an upper second-class honours degree in law. Thereafter, I began working two jobs, several days a week, whilst studying in the evenings for a postgraduate diploma in legal practice via CILEx. Halfway into my postgraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to secure a paralegal job in a multinational law firm in central London. This meant that I no longer had to work Monday-Sunday and I had more time to study. I was advised that I was hired (in part) because of my dedication and determination to pursue my chosen career path. I qualified in February 2020.

“In my view, work ethic and determination are key components to breaking socio-economic boundaries. However, I recognise that I am of privilege, and that I would not have gained the confidence that I now have, were it not for some of my previous and current supervisors. I was also fortunate enough to have a supportive family who obtained loans in order to help kickstart and pay towards my postgraduate education.    

“I began working for Penningtons Manches Cooper in July 2020. One of the things that attracted me to Penningtons Manches Cooper was its reputation for diversity and inclusivity as well as the number of CILEx lawyers the firm employed. At Penningtons Manches Cooper a person’s background does not by any means halt or impact their career.

“I am proud to be a part of the firm’s mission to improve social mobility by being a role model and a mentor on its socioeconomic committee.”

Daff Richardson, partner, employment:
“I became a member of the firm’s socioeconomic sub-committee because I believe passionately that everyone, whatever their background, should have opportunities to pursue the career they want. Many years ago, I was talking to a colleague about becoming legally qualified, and was so saddened when she said: ‘People like me’ – she meant people from a low-income background – ‘don’t do things like that.’

“My own background is much closer to hers than she probably thought. I was brought up in a rural village and none of my family had anything other than basic school leaving qualifications – my dad left school at 14. My parents wanted me to succeed but had no idea about the education system, which I had to work out for myself. I remember very clearly my mum telling me that they had no money to send me to university so I shouldn’t get my hopes raised. I determined at that moment that I would find a way of going to university. I was the first in the family to do so and I certainly didn’t know what to expect or the sort of people I might meet.   

“My degree was not in law, but I had always felt that something in the legal field would suit me. I was, and am, indebted to a kind law tutor who took me under her wing and spent hours going through applications for articles (as training contracts used to be called) with me, leading to a job in Oxford, where I’m still based. 

“I am very proud of the way in which Penningtons Manches Cooper encourages people from all backgrounds to apply to work at the firm and of the opportunities it offers.”

Charlotte Duran, associate director, best practice:
“As a child of a single parent family, raised in council housing, with no exposure to the legal world, I am aware that I don’t fit the typical solicitor demographic but that is no bad thing. Diverse backgrounds and different life experiences lead to diverse ideas and a better understanding of different types of people. That is why equality of opportunity across all sections of society is good for business. It is also the right thing to do. No one should be penalised for circumstances beyond their control – whether those circumstances are steeped in privilege or more challenging.

“No one is setting obstacles deliberately, but they do exist, and, for some, they remain a bar to a legal career. They may be practical, such as lack of connections in the legal profession or lack of funding. Or they may be more subtle, a feeling that you just don’t fit.  

“Personally, I was lucky. Studying at a time when university was mostly free and picking law from a list of possible subjects simply because it sounded interesting – only to find that it was indeed a fascinating subject which made sense to me - leading me down a path to qualifying as a solicitor in 2001. Luckier still, I then found a passion for risk management, taking an in-house role at Penningtons Manches Cooper where I advise lawyers on risk management and compliance issues. I am proud to have become an associate director within the best practice team of such an exciting firm and one which cares about diversity. As a recent joiner to the socioeconomic committee, I am hoping to help reduce obstacles where possible but, equally, I hope that I can serve as evidence that law can be for anyone.”

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