Allen & Overy, Biglaw, Celebrities, Gender, Magic Circle, United Kingdom / Great Britain, Women's Issues

Letter from London: Chelsy Davy Joins Biglaw

Maybe it was the hypnotic effect Pippa Middleton’s ass had on Prince Harry? Or perhaps it was simply that Chelsy Davy didn’t want to marry into the crazy old royal family? Either way, shortly after William and Kate tied the knot in April, Harry and Chelsy split up.

And what did the Zimbabwean blonde bombshell do next? She became a lawyer. Yes, last week the ex-girlfriend of Princess Diana’s youngest son started life as a trainee with top London law firm Allen & Overy.

“Let’s watch Chelsy,” the Sun newspaper crowed on Wednesday, after snapping suit-clad Davy making her way through London’s financial district to the Magic Circle giant’s office. The article, fascinatingly, went on to note that Davy “really was legally blonde.” And that was it. End of story. In fact, according to an A&O press officer I spoke with the other day, Davy starting work at the firm is “no story at all.”

But I beg to differ….

Davy joining A&O merits, at the very least, a sarcastic blog post. In fact, I’d go even further than that to argue it’s newsworthy on at least three fronts.

First, it’s a good example of Biglaw firms’ anxiousness to forge ties with the establishment. Even though things between Harry and Davy haven’t worked out the way A&O must have hoped when they began courting her back in 2009, she is still a valuable link to the people at the top. And A&O knows all about the power of such associations; the firm made its name, after all, advising King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936 (as partially depicted in The King’s Speech).

Second, Davy’s hire is illustrative of U.K. Biglaw firms’ preference for upper class kids. British lawyers are more than seven times as likely to have been privately educated than members of the general U.K. population. And from the little data available — most British firms monitor their lawyers’ ethnicity, but few record information about socio-economic backgrounds — it’s a situation that seems to be getting worse. According to the Sutton Trust, between 1988 and 2004 the proportion of Magic Circle partners aged under 39 who had been privately educated rose from 59% to 71%.

Part of the problem is the unwillingness of the U.K.’s often supine legal media to pull law firms up on their bias. Coverage of social mobility issues in the main legal magazine here, The Lawyer, is characterised by an enthusiasm to run “good news” stories, with critical thought rarely applied to law firms’ well-meaning, but often not particularly well-thought through, ventures to broaden access to the profession.

Finally, the Davy and A&O hook up represents the latest chapter of U.K. Biglaw’s infatuation with glamorous young women. About 60% of rookie lawyers at the top corporate firms in Britain are women — and, having covered the legal market for a while now, my experience is that these women tend to be pretty hot. Indeed, their attractiveness is such that earlier this year A&O sent an email around asking its female trainees to dress a little more dowdily. Not that I’m suggesting the policy to recruit good-looking people just applies to women; the men at these places tend to be pretty hot, too. In fact, whenever I go to a Biglaw firm, I end up feeling like such a troll in comparison to these beauties that I rush home and draw the curtains for days.

I digress. The point about 60% of junior lawyers being women is that this figure falls away dramatically as associates climb the ranks towards partnership. Just 18% of partners at the big London law firms are female. And again, this isn’t something the U.K. legal press likes to dwell on. So Chelsy, if you’re reading, while Biglaw may be a safer bet than Harry and his mad family, don’t expect it to be an easy ride.

Alex Aldridge is a London-based journalist specialising in legal affairs. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and contributes regularly to specialist legal publications. Previously Alex was Associate Editor of Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeUK or email him at

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