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By Cailyn Cox
Could changing attitudes in the legal industry brighten the future for students not from the very top universities?
For law graduates, finding useful experience in the workforce is a major hurdle to overcome after graduating, especially from a less prestigious university.
In the commercial law business in the United Kingdom, it is traditionally very hard for graduates from a university outside of the Russell Group to land a good job, and the situation isn’t changing much for the better of the “others”.
With evidence in the US showing that students from the top of their classes make the most successful lawyers, and not only those that hail from top universities, it seems certain that law firms could do better by expanding their recruitment horizons.
It may also improve the outlook for a few graduate job-seekers and motivate potentially brilliant lawyers to make their application to the firm of their choice. Consequently, law firms throughout the UK have been pledging to change their intake procedures to benefit those candidates who may come from less privileged backgrounds.
However, according to research from Legal Week, progress is slow. From 2010 to 2013 the percentages of legal trainee recruits from overseas universities increased from four to six percent, recruits from Russell Group universities (excluding Oxbridge) went from 55 to 56 percent, TWEET and Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) decreased from 24 to 23 percent. Recruits from “other” UK universities decreased from 17 to 15 percent.
Although the figures are based on incomplete data, they show that universities in the UK have changed marginally in their percentage contributions to new legal recruits, and while overseas universities’ contributions are low, the percentages recruited from them have risen significantly.
James Doyle, a graduate recruitment partner at Hogan Lovells, claims that diversity initiatives are having an impact: "At the law firm level there's a real focus on social mobility,” he says. “The people we recruit do come from a variety of different backgrounds, and I think that's quite important."
Clifford Chance introduced measures in 2013 to counter the bias towards Oxbridge students in its recruitment process. In the final interview, the partner conducting the interview is not notified of the university the candidate attended.
Some have noted that bias may still exist in the earlier stages of recruitment, but so far the measures seem to have contributed to large changes in the composition of graduate trainees.
The Independent reported that, "In its first year of operation, the scheme has seen its annual intake of 100 graduate trainees come from 41 different education institutions – a rise of nearly 30 per cent on the number represented in the previous year under the old recruitment system." TWEET
Unfortunately, Allen & Overy (A&O), along with the rest of the Magic Circle firms, seem to have a different opinion on implementing “Oxbridge bias” countermeasures into its recruitment process.
A&O's senior graduate recruitment manager Sarah Cockburn said, “We won’t be implementing blind CV interviewing. We regularly conduct analysis of our application process and we do not see any bias at all in our selection process at any point.”
However, Kirstie Kelly, director of LaunchPad Recruits says the company is seeing a general shift in the recruitment industry when it comes to selecting candidates: "We are starting to see an increasing number of our professional services and law sector customers really starting to challenge the status quo and changing the previously rigid application pre-requisites.
"The net result has been shown with a widening range of applicants from a breadth of backgrounds, but those who meet their culture fit criteria. Of course, they need rigour around testing these capabilities, and many are incorporating the new thinking around Strengths Based Video Interviewing (via CAPP-eu.co.uk) as a way of validating candidates - beyond Oxbridge."
PRIME is an initiative launched in 2011 by 22 founding members including law firms and legal departments. According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the program provides, “fair and equal access to quality work experience in the legal profession for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
From just 22 founding firms in 2011 to 80 today, the initiative carries no obligation for firms to make job offers to those who are selected for work experience, but simply aims to “broaden access to the legal profession.”
Oxford University's Faculty of Law is even looking at becoming a member of PRIME, providing validity to claims that there will be an advantage in law students from diverse economic backgrounds. Maureen O'Neill, the faculty's director of development, says, “We are absolutely elitist in wanting the very brightest students to come, but we don't care about their background or income."
Although “adapt or die” has become an adage to live by for many companies following the financial meltdown of 2008, many companies still remain steadfast in their old ways, not knowing how they may potentially be slowly suffocating themselves.
While the calls to broaden the scope of law firms’ recruitment searches are in general accordance with the UK’s policies of equality and justice, they are in all likelihood in the legal practice’s best interests too.
Everyone’s familiar with this story. A potential candidate applies for a job. He receives a call from a recruiter or hiring manager and is overjoyed. He completes a phone interview, an aptitude test, and an in-person interview.
Then, he waits. And waits. He doesn’t hear back until months later when he’s rejected. The whole time, he’s been haphazardly completing other applications and interviews in the hopes that he nailed the first one and scored the job.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common. A long-winded recruitment process does not just waste money; it also wastes time. TWEET Workforce reports that at Intermountain Health Care, the hiring process typically used to take 90 days after posting an ad.
That is too long. Long-winded recruitment makes companies less desirable by essentially antagonising potential hires. At Intermountain Health Care for example, even before the interview process, employees had to wait for weeks before obtaining approval to advertise the job and gather applications.
That was until Intermountain Health Care switched over to a web-based recruiting system in 2002. They shortened their average time between posting and offer to just 42 days. Web-based applications like RecruiterBox and The Resumator can help you do this.
According to Small Business Computing, they’ve got tracking tools and don’t cost an exorbitant amount of money.
As soon as you notice a hole in your company, the benefits of electronic recruitment tools kick in. You won’t have to wait days or even weeks for the hiring request to be okay-ed by supervisors and human resources.
Automated applications maximise your efficiency, helping you get approval for job postings almost immediately. Moreover, many of these applications have referral systems, so you can tap into your existing employee pool to fill an open role.
As Small Business Computing explains, current employees already understand the company culture, so they can help you find the perfectly fit candidate.
Many of the programs also have filters that narrow online applications down to a short list so you don’t have to weed through hundreds of applications. And once you decide on a few potentials, they’ll help you keep track of applicants and their materials.
As Workforce notes, hiring managers can cross-check a candidate’s qualifications with the needs of the position even before interviews. That way, you will reduce the likelihood of meeting with candidates who misunderstand the position.
Kirstie Kelly, director of LaunchPad Recruits, the video selection experts says: "increasingly we're helping our customers to measure the end to end recruitment process - both in terms of time to offer, and efficiency at each stage of their process. A high touch but automated process through to face to face meeting with the business, makes this possible. And innovative businesses are recognising how important this really is in the search for great talent."
To pare down your list even further, create specific job postings that list all necessary skills. As RecruiterBox explains, they will do the first round of screening for you. The more skills you list, the fewer applicants you get, which means you can work more efficiently. Avoid vague language and try to list skill sets on top of personality traits.
When candidates have both the desired skills and traits, the chances of them being good fits are high. A clear job description also ensures that there are no surprises once the candidate is hired. This will reduce your turnaround rate and leave you with happy employees.
Once you’ve got a small list of potentials, start eliminating. Most companies use social media. In fact, according to Mediabistro, 92 percent of companies use social media for recruitment. And these platforms work. According to a Staff.com infographic, 73% of employees are hired successfully through social media.
While LinkedIn is the most obvious choice, Twitter and Facebook are also useful. Before your applicants come in for interviews, head to Google to find out if there are any red flags.
You may also find positive information you would not have found on resumes. These searches will help one candidate gain an edge over another to make your decision easier and quicker.
Don’t avoid traditional tactics completely though. As Tech.co explains, while social media can tell you a lot about someone, it can’t tell you everything. Often, it takes a few in-person interviews to correctly gauge a person’s zeal, warmth, and leadership abilities.
That’s why, on the other hand, a longer hiring process might just serve some companies well. That’s what Maren Donovan, the CEO and founder of Zirtual has concluded. She told Recruiter.com that they “put a lot of hoops in front of [applicants] before they actually get to a phone interview, and they go through two of those.”And for them, it works.
Only the best candidates come on board. “I think the reason is because it really takes persistence. It takes really wanting the job to go through our process,” she says. “You have to really love this kind of work.”
Still, there’s a difference between being thorough and being precise. You want to make sure you hire the best candidate, but it doesn’t have to take months. A lot of that comes down to organisation. This is where the aforementioned electronic application systems come in handy. But choose wisely. Use one that matches all of your needs.
If you think you’ll need to ask specific questions or request writing samples, make sure the application is customisable. As Simplicant explains, you’ll also want to streamline your process as much as possible by using one application that covers a wide range of functions for all your needs.
Plus, you can focus your attention by prioritising one role at a time. Rather than jumping from job to job minute after minute, spend whole hours or days working to fill a single position. Only move on to the next position once you fill your current one. You’ll take care of what matters most, so you can stay organised throughout.
And if you think it’s going to take longer than expected, let your candidates know. TWEET They will appreciate the update and will be able to plan out their time efficiently. Many electronic applications can do this for you as well. But if you don’t keep the lines of communication open, you run the risk of dissuading your potential hire.
Remember, you’re proving yourself to the candidate as much as they’re proving themselves to you. If you come across as inefficient, they may not want to work with you, which could cost you a great employee. Be efficient. Your applicants deserve it.