Law firms should consider social mobility in their recruitment practices, argues Bryan Scant.
In recent weeks, the press has picked up on a recruitment practice which has been quietly evolving over the past few years in the City.
As the drive for social mobility in the legal profession increases, firms are innovating and investing in recruitment techniques which look beyond the schools and universities that applicants attended, and instead place a greater emphasis on the merits of the individual applicant.
Junior lawyers, or those entering the profession, have long held a fear that they could be impeded as a result of their choice of university. Not everyone goes to Oxford or Cambridge, and not everyone can boast of a set of sparkling A-level results to a would-be employer, but that does not mean they do not possess the skills required to become an excellent solicitor.
Of course, there must be ways of filtering the hundreds of applications that law firms receive each year, but that should not be based on educational establishment. Thankfully, the ‘old boys’ club’ perception of the legal profession is changing, largely due to the forward-thinking recruitment teams at law firms.
I completed the educational stage of my training at Bournemouth University, a former polytechnic, and was fortunate to be recruited by a firm that showed no bias towards educational establishments. I am pleased to say that, from experience, the historic perception of a ‘closed shop’ profession is changing.
‘Blind recruitment’ has been a buzzword for the past few years, most notably due to Clifford Chance’s innovative idea to withhold certain educational information from interviewers to prevent unconscious bias. This has been followed by several other top firms, and has resulted in an increase in diversity figures.
Beyond blind recruitment, two major City firms have recently announced their investment in new software which will help ‘contextualise’ the achievements of applicants. This will allow firms to assess an individual’s academic performance against the overall performance of the school within which they took their exams. Therefore, an individual who obtained 3 Bs at A-level at an institution where the average grade is 3 Ds will gain due credit for their contextualised academic achievement.
The proof of the success of these schemes will be in the statistics released over the coming years. However, we know that there is a still a way to go before we can say that law firms are really ‘blind’ to educational establishments.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s decision to withdraw from the voluntary code of good practice in the recruitment of trainee solicitors may encourage firms to start recruiting trainees earlier than ever. If firms started to recruit A-level or first-year university students, it would seriously undermine the good work that is being carried out.
However, with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), the Association of Graduate Recruiters, and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services all recently agreeing to remain as signatories to the code, this may prove a more theoretical risk than a practical one. If firms did start their recruitment process earlier, the JLD hopes they would not show a bias towards certain educational institutions, and would instead take a more open-minded approach.
The JLD would urge employers to consider social mobility in their recruitment practices and allow individuals who can evidence the necessary potential the opportunity to have a successful and rewarding career in law, regardless of where they completed the academic stage of their training.