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New technology-based recruitment tools are being used to ensure greater diversity in the legal workforce, and make it easier for employers and candidates to connect. While some AI recruitment tools support inclusive recruitment, there’s more to learn.

LSJ looks at the recruitment practices of law firms, how legal recruiters are using technology and social media to connect candidates and employers, and current research on recruitment AI.

The perfect rainbow: recruiting law graduates

Law firms are adopting new processes for recruiting law graduates to ensure this process incorporates diversity.

Fiona Crosbie, Chair of Allens, says, “We know that a diverse team benefits everyone ­– our people, our clients and our firm. We make better decisions when we have diverse voices and perspectives around every table and this includes diversity of gender, culture, background, skillset and thinking.”

Katrina Rathie, former Partner in Charge at King & Wood Mallesons, agrees. She says, “In the world of law I walked into more than three decades ago, all the partners came from a certain world. About 10 years ago, we changed that by going into blind recruitment, whereby with the first round of resumes of applicants any factors that would indicate your identity were deliberately removed: whether you were male or female or from a private school or a public school, what university you went to. And with this we got the perfect rainbow – the best and brightest, and not just from a particular slice of the pie.”

Crosbie believes that having a diverse workforce in a law firm will encourage law graduates from a wide range of backgrounds to apply. “We want prospective lawyers to know there is opportunity for them at Allens and that their life experiences are viewed as an asset.”

In the recruitment process, she says, “We seek to understand an applicant’s achievements in the context of their lives, including their educational, cultural and socio-economic background. The Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) allows us to do this and has helped us to recruit graduates from a more diverse pool of talent. I’m confident we’re a better firm as a result.”

Rare CRS was developed by UK company Rare Recruitment in 2005, to enable more people from disadvantaged background to enter the professions. Rare is used by employers across a range of sectors and industries and is increasingly being used for legal recruitment. Allens was the first Australian business to introduce the Rare CRS to its graduate recruitment process.

LSJ spoke to Shannon Lyndon-Lugg, Acting Chief People Officer at Allens. “We are proud to be the founding partner of Rare in Australia in 2016,” she says. “Graduate recruitment is highly competitive, and having a sophisticated tool that allows our recruitment teams to see candidates on a level playing field will help ensure Allens continues to recruit the brightest and most promising law graduates. Ensuring that we hire graduates who reflect the full diversity of Australian society and our clients’ businesses is key.”

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Shannon Lyndon-Lugg, Acting Chief People Officer at Allens

Lyndon-Lugg explains how Rare CRS is used at Allens: “It’s an opt-in recruitment tool that we use to help diversify our talent pool. The tool uses educational, socioeconomic and personal information to provide us with a more complete picture of a candidate’s background, to allow us to better understand their achievements and the context in which they have been gained. This helps us to recruit the brightest and most promising law graduates and help those to shine where they may have traditionally been overlooked.”

Rare is used in conjunction with other methodologies, Lyndon-Lugg adds.

“The tool builds on the other elements of our selection process, including work experience, extra-curricular activities, and academic achievements. It contextualises a candidate’s application by providing additional information on any contributing factors that sit behind achievements and experiences, helping to highlight those who have faced adversity and overcome it. The tool aims to level the playing field and allows us to screen-in candidates by understanding their achievements in context.”

The Rare tool provides an optional survey for candidates, Lyndon-Lugg says. “Upon completion of the survey, two outputs are produced – one measures disadvantage, and other measures outperformance of the individual compared to other students from the same high school. This information is treated in the strictest confidence, and is used to assist in the screening process. We take a holistic view in reviewing applications, so there is no advantage or disadvantage if a candidate chooses not to disclose information in the survey.”

Allens is finding this recruitment methodology very useful, Lyndon-Lugg says. “With our clerks and graduates being the largest talent pipeline for the firm, using Rare in early career recruitment has enabled us to increase and diversify the talent pool in an already highly competitive market. Candidates who complete this process progress in our recruitment process and ultimately end up at Allens have proven to have the skills and attributes we look for in our lawyers, including resilience and determination.”

Lyndon-Lugg adds: “We know that hiring people is only one part of the equation, and building an inclusive environment and culture where people can flourish is equally important. To that end we have been able to expand our thinking into how we support our staff across the firm who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and our experiences with this contextual tool continue to influence us and keep diversity and inclusion conversations front of mind.”

Connecting the legal community via technology

To explore new tools for recruiting lawyers for more senior positions, LSJ spoke to the founder and CEO of Elias Recruitment, Jason Elias. His company uses social media platforms and AI systems for recruiting lawyers across a wide variety of organisations, including native title organisations, local government, and state and Commonwealth agencies.

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Jason Elias, founder and CEO of Elias Recruitment

Elias believes that social media offers a powerful platform for linking potential candidates for legal positions with potential employers.

He has created a specialist group on LinkedIn called the Australian Legal Community, which has around 12,000 lawyers. Its members can network, share knowledge, and promote and identify career opportunities.

Elias Recruitment also uses a workplace automation tool: “We use Zapier, an applicant tracking system. This CRM-type system enables information to be shared between two kinds of software – so we can share job ads, say, across social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter, and on job boards. And for follow up when someone applies for a job. For example, when someone applies for a position and gains an interview, the system will send a calendar invitation to the candidate. And it will send communications with people once they’ve started a job. It will ask, how’s it going? What can we do? Can we help you out there? Are there any teething issues?”

With all these follow-up mechanisms in place, Elias says, there are good retention rates for the people the company places.

Elias is excited about a new development at his company: “We’re about to launch a legal talent pool, a portal to a pool of candidates that are available for law firm clients to have a look at. So if you’re looking for an assistant or a lawyer or whatever it may be, you could log into the porrtal, and you can see all our candidates.

“For each candidate we press a button and their CV gets presented into the system and anonymised. So it takes off where they’re working, anything that identifies them. But it will speed up the process because businesses can access that at any time and at the same time if you are a lawyer who says, I’d like to work at A,B,C and D, we can forward that anonymous profile to all the firms you’re interested in.

A portal of this kind, Elias advises, has an advantage over a generalised LinkedIn group. “When you’re in a group on LinkedIn, you may not want to show visibly that you’re looking for work, or interested in moving from your current firm or agency, Everyone listed in the talent pool, however, would be someone who has let us know they want to be included, and they will be pre-screened, and then ‘traffic lighted’, so it will be clear they are interested in moving. And they can show their interest in specific firms without jeopardising their confidentiality until that firm shows an interest.”

Employers will use the pool, Elias says, to identify a candidate who “looks interesting.” He adds:, “We’ll release the candidate’s CV once we have their permission. Then we can set up interviews, do reference checks, organise everything for them.”

The trusted advisor

His firm’s use of recruitment technology, Elias observes, would be far less effective if he didn’t have a legal background himself.

Elias studied law at university, and then did a summer clerkship with Baker McKenzie overseas. On his return, he worked for two years with the firm, “but,” he says, “I didn’t love it; I like people, and I was in quite a dry area of law. So after two years I had a chat to a family friend who was in recruitment, and she said, ‘come and work with me to decide what you want to do when you grow up. And if you do what I do you’ll spend your life chatting to interesting people.’ So I did it, and I fell in love with it. And within a year, 23 years ago, I started my own business.”

Despite his early career change, Elias says, his legal studies and experience have deeply informed his work as a recruiter. “Firstly, I think it’s that as recruiters we are trusted advisors, we’re not salespeople. And I think having the background of working in a big firm helps with that. It does help to know that I’ve been where a lot of my candidates have been before. I get what they need in the way of negotiation skills, in understanding the terminology, and understanding what’s involved in a workplace.”

Elias is planning to keep up his legal skills and connection with the legal community by volunteering with his local community legal centre.

Elias also recommends collaborating with fields outside of the law to understand best practice in recruiting professionals. His work has been informed, he says, by his participation and ten-year leadership role in NPA Worldwide, an association of 500 recruitment companies who collaborate globally, sharing knowledge across specialisations.

AI and unconscious bias in recruitment

Zapier, the automated workforce platform mentioned by Elias, is one of a burgeoning set of dedicated AI options.

Platforms like “AmazinglyHiring”, “Humanly”, “Findem”, ‘HireEZ’, and “Fetcher” automate the full recruitment process. AI covers everything from sourcing candidates, anonymising and screening resumes, conducting assessments, and setting up interviews.

But there are limitations to the effectiveness of these tools, particularly in the area of recruiting a diverse workforce.

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has partnered with Hudson RPO and Monash University to research the impact of unconscious bias on recruitment and selection decisions using AI, and offer interventions to minimise or remove the influence of unconscious bias in recruitment.

The three-year study, Inclusive AI at Work in Recruitment, is in its third stage. The project has so far looked at the impact of unconscious bias on recruitment and selection processes that use AI and the state of play of AI-supported recruitment in Australia. The researchers have asked hiring professionals, AI developers, academics and industry experts to share their insights into the use of AI tools in recruitment and their impact on diverse people.

“What we heard,” Lisa Annese, CEO of DCA, says, “was that while AI can be an efficient, convenient, supportive, and objective tool that is capable of analysing bias in recruitment [for] AI to support inclusive recruitment, there needs to be more support for people – recruiters, HR professionals and developers – on how to use these tools to eliminate rather than amplify bias. This means developers applying a D&I [diversity and inclusion] lens during the design and testing of these tools, and recruiters and HR professionals applying a D&I lens when AI tools are being deployed.”

The message seems clear. Just as “hiring people is only part of the equation” for supporting diverse employees in the workplace, technology is only part of the solution for recruiting them to work there.