At Route1, we believe hiring can be done better for candidates and employers by adding transparency and control to the process. This article focuses on the wisdom of traditional hiring practices that value university pedigree, grades and cultural “fit” over many other criteria. Unfortunately, impeccable credentials are not always a reliable indicator of how well a candidate will perform once they are employed, and confirmation bias often plays an insidious role in who is hired and why.
If your law firm is comprised of people from similar backgrounds, for example who went to a certain university type, and who share common outside interests it’s likely that your firm will select how well a candidate will “fit in” to the firm’s culture on this basis. The interview process can therefore be used to “weed out” people with different backgrounds and experiences, resulting in a homogeneous group. This club mentality might make it more comfortable and entertaining to go to work, but as clients become more diverse, and require more diversity from their suppliers, one must question whether this is it really in the best interests of the firm. In addition, as technology enables agile working, traditional models of leverage and “[physical] bums on [physical] seats” will also change a law firm’s culture and expectations.
Hiring different types of people from different backgrounds and skill sets will result in stronger bench strength, more flexibility, and the ability to serve a broader clientele. As a result, interviewers who look for shared backgrounds and experiences in new hires should start looking for people with unconventional backgrounds, uncommon experiences, and a life history that will broaden the firm’s personalities and skillset.
A problem here is the CV. CVs contain prescriptive kinds of information about a candidate, but are only valuable up to a point. CVs rarely highlight honesty, integrity, leadership, creativity, imagination, humour, problem-solving abilities, teamwork and work ethic. The personal characteristics that create a good person and a great hire. And these types of people are not always credential-grooming perfectionists, and as a result, they often slip through the traditional cracks of the traditional hiring process. Interestingly, when firms hire their trainee intake from law school they will use processes that can highlight these traits – problem solving, tests, and yes, just spending time in their company through summer programs, internships and work experience. At Route1 we try, to the extent possible, to try and replicate the benefits of these immersive approaches. The best lawyers often have intangible skills that are difficult to teach as well: an ability to think on their feet, a gift for unconventional arguments, a sense of fairness, eloquent communication skills, creative problem-solving abilities and grace under pressure. Often, these “unteachable” qualities are more reflective of who a candidate really is, and are a better predictor of how they will function on the job. And at Route1, unlike “traditional” recruiters, we are using substantive legal content and charitable giving to ensure that the right kind of person is attracted to apply to your job – one who is mindful of their own professional and personal development.
The interesting question for Route1 is how these traits can be revealed in a lateral hire context, which are often time pressured due to a need to fill roles left vacant from unscheduled departures. We therefore screen many of our candidates using senior legally qualified personnel, not recruiters. And we use “behavioral” interview techniques which, while nothing new, are a bit of an art. Questions like: “How would you handle a disagreement with your boss?”, “Have you ever made a risky or unpopular decision?”, or “Tell me about a time you failed, and what you learned from it,” are more revealing in terms of how a candidate answers the question than the actual content of their answer. While the candidate is talking, we watch their body language—eye contact, posture, hand gestures, etc.—for clues about their personality and how they present themselves and their ideas. There is so much more data available today—on group-system dynamics, organizational effectiveness, and behavioral psychology, not to mention the information available on individual candidates—that it would be foolish to disregard it.
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