Diversifying the future

Diversity is a common goal which spans the legal sector, and it is gradually taking shape. Firms large and small are now cultivating safe and frequent opportunities for underrepresented people to work in law, and are identifying routes in order to do this more successfully. We spoke to Emma Makisimovic, who is the Engagement & Inclusion Manager at RPC, to see what is in place at RPC to promote diversity.

  • Last updated Feb 26, 2018 3:17:46 PM
  • Becky Kells, Editor, AllAboutLaw

The lack of diversity within the law sector has often been put under the microscope. As the Engagement & Inclusion Manager at RPC, what improvements have you seen in diversifying the legal sector in recent years?
While there is still some way to go, a number of law firms have recently taken steps to ensure that they are opening their doors to a diverse pool of talent through a number of avenues, including launching their own schemes, like PRIME and using a third party, like Rare. Both of these efforts are attempting to ensure that the talent that comes into the sector is representative of society, from race to socio-economic backgrounds to sexual orientation.

And what do you think still needs to happen?
Law firms are heading in the right direction, but there are no quick wins. The question is: are we reaching out to the right people in the right way? Many students coming through the school system in some of the most deprived areas really lack the confidence to pursue a career in law. Law firms could be doing so much more to help build up the skills and the belief within the students that they can pursue a career in the law. That can take many forms from establishing mentoring schemes within secondary schools to hosting open days where students can come in and see what happens within a law firm.

At RPC, what support or opportunities are currently in place to promote and increase diversity?
To ensure our recruitment is based on merit and not unconscious bias, we have adopted Rare's Contextual Recruitment System which factors social mobility metrics into our graduate recruitment process, allowing us to identify the very best candidates regardless of their socio-economic background.

We have adopted a "blind" recruitment approach for graduates; none of our assessors on our trainee recruitment assessment days have sight of the candidate's application form. Along with unconscious bias training, this concerted effort to ensure consistency and fairness in our recruitment processes is paramount to our talent acquisition approach.

Three of our employees are professional ambassadors for Aspiring Solicitors. We are appearing in the Aspiring Solicitors directory for the first time this year to ensure a diverse range of candidates engage with our brand and opportunities.

Aimed at invigorating the recruitment process for many companies to ensure they are getting to the right people no matter what their background is, the Good Recruitment Campaign is something that we live by. In fact, we are the only law firm to sit on the advisory board, and we played an integral role in developing the Charter and campaign.

We are also involved in a number of diversity events and activities aimed at encouraging access to the firm – and the legal profession in general – for those who may otherwise be dissuaded from law due to their circumstances or their impressions of the sector, including:

City Law for Ethnic Minorities: Every year we are involved with this event in partnership with Target Jobs and three other City law firms.? This event gives students from ethnic minority backgrounds the opportunity to engage with lawyers at all levels, from trainee to partner, and provides an insight into the day-to-day work of a City solicitor. Through this event we also hope to be able to encourage a broader range of candidates to apply to RPC.

The University of Law / RPC Legal Access Programme (law specific programme): This scheme promotes academic diversity.? Each year we offer two summer scheme places for candidates who have failed to meet our academic criteria i.e. either did not achieve a 2.1 at degree or did not secure As and Bs at A-level, due to mitigating circumstances.? All applicants have to achieve a high verbal reasoning score and perform well on the assessment centre.

DiversCity in Law: A unique recruitment event aimed at raising awareness of pursuing a legal career in the City amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students at degree and postgraduate level.? RPC run this event along with 10 other city law firms.

What are the benefits of having a diverse workforce?
There are numerous benefits to employing a diverse group of employees. Research by a number of consultancies and accountancy firms already points towards a strong correlation between profit growth and a diverse workplace. And while it is important to keep an eye on business, it is just as important to ensure that we are representative of society, not in the least as everyone deserves a fair crack at a career in the law, and we know that if you have a diverse workplace, people are generally happier, more collaborative and that can only mean that the top and bottom lines benefit.

Katie Fry-Paul, a trainee solicitor at RPC, said: "The diversity initiative gave me confidence to apply to RPC; I hadn't thought that a training contract at the firm was within my reach. ?Whilst the scheme gave me a "foot in the door" in terms of getting to interview, I still had to work hard and prove myself to secure a place on the vacation scheme and then a training contract, so I don't feel any less worthy of my place here.? Aside from the clear benefit to me personally, the existence of the scheme shows a real commitment to diversity in the workforce which makes RPC a great place to train."

A diverse future: how the top law firms are diversifying their intake.

Law firms are leading the way when it comes to implementing diversity measures in their recruitment processes. Research by ISE shows that 93% of law firms took active measures to diversify in 2017, compared to the cross-industry average, 71%. But what exactly are these specific diversifying actions? If you're interested in or concerned about diversity, here are some recruitment techniques to keep an eye out for.

University and name blind interviews 
A lot of firms are adopting this 'blind' process in order to eliminate bias they may hold towards candidates. Some universities come with certain stereotypes and misconceptions, and law firms are increasingly realising that where you study does not define you as a person. As a result, they're completely taking the university element out of the question, to eliminate any judgement or preconceptions. Candidates will enter the interview with no details of their education having been shared beforehand, so they are in good stead to make their own impression. This also applies to the name. You wouldn't judge a book by its cover, and nor should you be tempted to judge a prospective lawyer by their name. Eliminating these two factors from the interview process returns them to the candidate's hands, and allows the interviewer and the interviewee to focus on what's important – your capacity to be a lawyer – rather than what your name is or where you studied.

Outreach events
Top law firms come with their own myths and stereotypes, and many students from underrepresented backgrounds may feel that they will not fit into this hypothetical law firm. This makes outreach events all the more important. In making themselves more visible and approachable on campus, law firms can establish an easier route for students looking to apply for a training contract. A lot of worries can be dispelled just by speaking with a representative from the firm in a comfortable environment, such as on campus or in your law faculty or society. The whole idea of this type of outreach is to give prospective applicants a chance to ask questions. Not only that, it breaks down the exclusive myth that surrounds a lot of law firms, and makes them more visible and accessible to all.

Contextualised recruitment 
According to ISE, one third of law firms used this in 2017 – so what is contextualised recruitment? In short, it means looking at the bigger picture. Rather than merely selecting the candidate with the best degree class, for example, recruiters might take a look at the background of a candidate, and establish what skills they have beyond the academic world. This can in turn lead to a diverse range of candidates, from a variety of academic backgrounds – meaning greater variety in the talent pool. It's great for the firm, and prevents recruiters from looking at a narrow scope of applicants.

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