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Archaic legal hiring slammed

THE LEGAL profession is lagging when it comes to choosing its graduates, according to a leading legal recruiter. Johnothan Naiman, CEO of Naiman Clarke, said the legal profession was so far…

THE LEGAL profession is lagging when it comes to choosing its graduates, according to a leading legal recruiter.

Johnothan Naiman, CEO of Naiman Clarke, said the legal profession was so far behind other professional services on graduate recruitment it was “frightening”. While most leading organisations worldwide were using assessment centres to select their graduates, law firms were still reliant on the age-old method of trawling through applications and partner interviews.

“They are only now taking up the technology to sort the thousands and thousands of CVs they receive, and once they have selected the candidates, they don’t use best practice,” Naiman said. One problem with partner interviews, he said, was that individuals unwittingly brought their own selection biases to the table.

Those prejudices didn’t necessarily correlate to the competencies required by the law firm. Also, the partner time used up in interviews was “staggering” and created a huge cost for the firm.

Naiman said the interview process was inadequate to assess graduates with no previous work experience. Other than their academic aptitude, there was no opportunity to test how they would communicate, their initiative, problem solving abilities, motivation or how they worked with others.

“They have learnt over the years that just high academics don’t necessarily translate into top lawyers, and especially top lawyers who stay,” Naiman said.

“[Firms] are not using best practice methodologies and are costing themselves significant amounts of money to recruit people without much formal reason, it would appear, other than the subjective feelings of the partners during interviews.”

Naiman said there were clear indications that the profession could see the flaws in the methodology, but individual firms seemed reluctant to make a change if other firms were not planning to. Gilbert + Tobin was one firm that had taken an innovative approach, with the introduction of Super Saturday in 2003.

Candidates are invited to the firm where they are given a tour and have the opportunity to meet partners and graduate recruits from the firm at an informal lunch, as well as their formal interview.

“We have found this useful because of the cultural fit aspect,” G+T’s human resources manager Petra Stirling says. “It gives [the students] a different experience and the opportunity to be themselves.”

There is a practical consideration to the Saturday format — the difficulty for students with part-time jobs to interview mid-week. But feedback from successful applicants has also indicated that the process was enjoyable and presented the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from the firm.

“One of the most important things to remember is that these are penultimate year students. Many have not had the experience of corporate interviews. Anything we can do to make the experience insightful from our perspective, so we can differentiate between candidates, but also comfortable for them, is of benefit,” Stirling says.

“This allows them to have a look at our culture, which is really important for retention, engagement and a productive workforce.”

Naiman believes one of the reasons more firms haven’t adopted innovative recruitment strategies is a fear that the best candidates will simply go to other firms. But Stirling says the Super Saturday approach has not acted as a deterrent for graduates. If anything, it is one of the attractions of interviewing with the firm.

While other firms are starting to pose opportunities for “candidates to tell us who they are”, Stirling says there is a “reluctance to move too fast, a perception that it will frighten the horses”.

“I think the key to introducing any new method of selecting candidates from a student pool is to ensure any tool you use is highly relevant to the role those students will be asked to perform,” she says. “Any student would be unhappy about engaging in a form of selection if it is not clear to them why it is relevant. But summer clerkships are still so competitive I think [they] would be pretty foolhardy to reject any opportunity to interview.”

Dolman director Amanda Bear said all the firms agree that graduate recruitment is not an easy process, but resist the concept of assessment centres because they feel it is important to retain the personal element. If the process was outsourced, the “danger” was that the culture of the firm and the sort of people it was looking for could be misinterpreted.

Naiman said he did not suggest a complete rejection of the traditional selection methods, but the interviewing partners could benefit from the tools assessment centres provided. “Law firms are bringing in a lot of people who last two years and leave. It costs a lot of money because [the graduates] are not really productive in those two years of rotation,” he says.

“They haven’t set up an assessment to see if they will suit the culture and have the sort of qualities they feel will increase their chances of staying around.”

For more information on graduate recruitment, turn to page 17 for the Victorian law careers fair report.

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