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Human element ‘crucial’ in legal recruitment

Despite a new study revealing that artificial intelligence is more likely to hire women than human recruiters, those in the legal realm have emphasised the importance of a “human element” in legal recruitment.

user iconLauren Croft 30 May 2023 Big Law
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New research from Monash University and the University of Gothenburg has shown that for women in tech, AI is more likely to hire them than a human recruiter.

As reported by the AFR, the study provided recruiters with applicants for a web designer role. Women scored “substantially lower” than men when being ranked by human recruiters, yet performed more equally with men when genders were hidden.

The study then used a chatbot from Melbourne-based start-up to screen the same candidates and give them a score. Human recruiters who knew the candidates’ gender but also their chatbot score then ranked men and women equally.


This comes after ChatGPT made global headlines in the first half of 2023 — confirming that AI platforms are changing the day-to-day operations of legal practice — at least to some extent. You can read Lawyers Weekly’s full coverage of ChatGPT and other AI platforms and what lawyers need to know here.

However, while AI may be able to offset gender bias in the recruitment process, legal recruiters have told Lawyers Weekly that within law, the human element remains crucial.

Carlyle Kingswood Global in-house legal and governance director Phillip Hunter said that while it’s encouraging to see technology advancing to combat discrimination, assessing a résumé is “a tiny fraction” of what human recruiters do, “particularly in the legal field”.

“Legal recruitment is a multifaceted process that goes beyond mere technical skills. Human recruiters possess the invaluable ability to evaluate a candidate’s interpersonal skills, judgement, ethics, and cultural fit, all of which are essential in the legal profession; a human recruiter develops a long-term relationship with candidates; they understand what is important to them and what motivates them in a personal way,” he explained.

“Additionally, clients generally provide a defined criteria when recruiting, which can include, whilst not always, gender-specific or indigenous hiring preferences to promote DE&I standards such as increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

“Legal practice demands nuanced legal reasoning and interpretation, areas where human judgement and expertise excel. While AI can contribute to streamlining processes and enhancing efficiency, it cannot fully replace the comprehensive understanding and valuable insights that human recruiters bring to the table.”

Despite the potential benefits of AI recruiters, nrol director Jesse Shah agreed that “the human element in the recruitment process will always be crucial”.

Human recruiters possess contextual understanding, allowing them to interpret factors beyond what is explicitly mentioned in a résumé or application. They can assess soft skills such as communication abilities and cultural fit, which AI systems often struggle to evaluate. While AI can reduce bias, it is not immune to biases itself, whereas human recruiters can be trained to recognise and mitigate their own biases,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“Additionally, recruiters can establish personal connections with candidates, understand their motivations, and provide a positive candidate experience. They can also adapt and flexibly navigate the dynamic recruitment landscape. While AI systems excel at processing large volumes of data, they may lack the adaptability and flexibility required for complex scenarios.

“The human element is crucial for contextual understanding, assessing soft skills, mitigating unconscious bias, establishing personal connections, and adapting to changing recruitment needs. By combining the strengths of AI and human recruiters, organisations can create a more comprehensive, fair, and effective recruitment process.”

Beacon Legal director Alex Gotch echoed a similar sentiment — but added that AI is likely to be more useful in candidate-dense employment markets as opposed to qualified legal, which is candidate short.

Last year, a candidate-short market was reportedly driving legal salaries up across the country, following a turbulent two years and a global pandemic.

And as previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, many legal candidates in the Sydney and Melbourne markets also jumped ship coming out of statewide lockdowns to move either interstate or, when travel restrictions were eventually lifted, overseas — something which made the recruitment of senior and mid-level lawyers, in particular, tougher than ever.

“Throughout the 10 years I have been a legal recruiter, there has always been some form of technology [that] has been tipped to put us out of a job. There was LinkedIn, then there were the technology platforms [that] ‘cut out’ using a recruiter … and now there is AI. I can definitely see the value of AI in recruitment. There are potential uses for removing bias during a recruitment process, which is a good thing. But I do not see AI posing a threat to the legal recruitment industry as a whole,” Mr Gotch said.

“My reasons for this are that the legal industry is, and always has been, a candidate-short market — a major value a recruiter provides is intangible: relationships, which help the best recruiters tap into passive candidate pools and turn would-be-jobseekers into active jobseekers. Also, a good legal recruiter will be able to give personal examples on major differentiating factors which influence decisions, such as firm culture, work personality fit and more.”

Within legal recruitment, AI is likely to be a better tool for initial screenings and to help automate time-consuming tasks, according to Burgess Paluch director Doron Paluch.

“For many years, some firms have been using automated processes to screen out candidates who don’t meet academic criteria. And if you want to hire a machine, AI may add substantial value to your recruitment process. You will still have issues in determining good team and interpersonal fit without real human input.

“And if you want to hire someone with any basic level of emotional intelligence, there is no way that recruitment can be effectively replaced by AI. AI cannot build real personal relationships or have any kind of real insight because, by definition, it is artificial,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“I don’t believe there is a ‘recruiter bias’ towards men in the legal industry. If anything, I think most employers, including law firms, are working hard to ensure equal representation, and they may prefer the hiring of women over men where everything else is equal, as they strive to equalise their workforce.”

While AI may be better than a human recruiter in industries where gender bias is inherently built into the recruitment process, Naiman Clarke managing director Elvira Naiman argued this isn’t the case in the legal profession.

“I would argue strongly that AI will never be able to substitute the ability of a senior specialist recruiter. Given more than 50 per cent of graduates in law in Australia are females, there is absolutely no gender bias from the recruitment firms nor from the law firms. There are also more female lawyers (around 53 per cent) versus males, so the gender bias at the recruitment point doesn’t exist. The only thing we are focusing on as recruiters is [if] the skill set and level of experience required.

“It’s very possible that gender bias or gender-based promotions occur after someone is actually recruited, but many of the firms would say that there is actually a preference towards recruiting females at first instance. Unfortunately, law is still very male heavy in the senior ranks — but that’s not because not enough females are getting recruited,” she explained.

“What recruiters offer is an intimate knowledge of the work undertaken in a particular firm or group, the personality of the various partners someone might work for and more generally the culture of a firm as well as benefits provided and so on. Lawyers usually look at a number of factors when looking for their new role, many of those factors are not empirically derived and rather the ‘vibe’ of a partner or firm, which is almost impossible to be replicated by artificial intelligence.”

Human recruiters can also “discern the significance” of where a candidate has worked and for how long; informed decision making, Mr Hunter said, “AI cannot replicate”.

“A human recruiter can pick up the phone to further explore a candidate’s suitability … I don’t think anyone wants a call from an AI chatbot. While AI certainly has the potential to address biases and streamline certain basic aspects of legal recruitment, the expertise and nuanced judgement of human recruiters remain indispensable in assessing the holistic qualities required in the legal profession,” he added.

“Striking a balanced approach that leverages the strengths of both AI and human recruiters is likely to yield the best outcomes in legal recruitment processes as things stand. AI is useful (I use it daily), but it isn’t ready to make decisions that affect people’s lives or careers just yet.”

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