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Are legal recruitment trends making a real difference?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/05/14

A host of efforts have been made across the legal sector in recent years to improve social mobility levels and attract a more diverse set of people to the industry, which has traditionally been considered the preserve of middle or upper-class Britons with good vowel sounds and no chins.

This perception is not strictly accurate, of course, especially thanks to the changes in recruitment practices that have been made over the last decade.

CV-blind interviewing, unconscious bias training and situational judgement tests have all be introduced within many firms as they attempt to boost their record when it comes to diversity, reports the Law Gazette.

However, opinion is divided as to whether these shifts are simply so much window dressing or if they are having a genuine effect on the make-up of the profession.

The latest Diversity League Table from the Black Solicitors Network puts women trainees at 56 per cent and ethnic minority trainees at 17 per cent, although this is (understandably) taking some time to filter through to the top tiers.

Given the importance placed on diversity when it comes to driving up innovation within the workforce, this is a recruitment area many legal organisations are likely to concentrate on in the coming years.

Admittedly, there is not a great deal law firms can do about the structural and societal issues that mean the children of low-income families are considerably less likely to get the high-end education often required for a good career in the sector.

But simply by changing their approach to wave off the claims of elitism often levelled at them, organisations can have an impact on who decides to pursue the qualifications needed.

Head of graduate recruitment at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Elizabeth Cope admitted that it can be difficult to take socio-economic context into account when hiring candidates based on a rigid strategy focused mainly on academic achievement.

"I struggle with how you can address the social mobility agenda if you have a rigid screening policy on grades. It is much more time-intensive but it means a richer spread of candidates," she explained.