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From Intent to Inertia: Why Some Law Firms Struggle To Uphold their New Year’s Resolutions

  • February 6, 2024

From Intent to Inertia: Why Some Law Firms Struggle To Uphold their New Year’s Resolutions

With the first month of the new year now in the bag, it is highly probable that those ‘New Year’ resolutions set at the back end of 2023 have already been broken – at least those set on a personal level where exercise or the quitting of bad habits are usually top of those lists.

In this regard, it is estimated that as many as 80% of people fail to keep their resolutions by February, with only a mere 8% seeing them through for the entirety of the year.

A 4000-year Old Tradition

The act of setting goals at the start of a new calendar year is reported to date back to Ancient Babylonians some 4000 years ago where ‘debts were promised to be paid to gods and borrowed objects returned’. And, whilst the new year promises were deeply entwined with religion and mythology, the premise of a ‘new beginning’ is one that has carried through for many thousands of years.

While resolutions are often associated with personal goals, they hold equal importance when it comes to business – especially around setting annual objectives and reflecting on the overall strategy in an ever-changing environment where continual review of the road ahead is crucial.

Most businesses will review their new year plans in quarter four when typically, there is enough information to reflect back on metrics and KPIs for the current year, assess whether or not objectives will be hit, and allow some wiggle room to re-calibrate and focus on ending the year on a high.

Objectives or ‘new year resolutions’ therefore have likely long been set at this juncture – and for those firms set on a growth trajectory, these will likely include executing hiring plans as well as a laser-sharp focus on staff retention.

Are Your Business Resolutions Still on Track?

At the stroke of midnight on 1st January, and the subsequent return to the office after the festive break, law firms will no doubt have set their sights kickstarting the 2024 objectives with intent. However, as the first quarter unfolds, it appears that some legal practices may be encountering obstacles in adhering to their hiring-focused resolutions.

Even one calendar month down the line, and then as the year progresses, it’s essential for law firms to reassess their hiring objectives, adapt to unforeseen challenges, and remain committed to the path of growth – especially when you consider a recent statistic that 75% of UK businesses are in a state of ‘existence’ or just surviving.

So what areas should firms be focussed on to ensure their well-intentioned goals remain on track?

Streamline (and Standardise) Your Hiring Process:

The aspiration to streamline hiring processes and avoid past mistakes holds promise, but the intricate decision-making within law firms can pose challenges. If you recruit regularly, it is worth looking to standardise processes where possible, albeit not at the detriment to the often-unique experiences of each individual candidate that comes into contact with the firm. An ethical approach to recruitment is recommended here – and is becoming a non-negotiable in the current candidate-led market.

Enhance Diversity Efforts:

Despite the emphasis on diversity and inclusion, some law firms may struggle to make significant progress due to ingrained practices and a lack of comprehensive strategies. Overcoming unconscious biases and fostering an inclusive environment requires continuous effort, which may not be progressing as rapidly as intended. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are not just buzzwords or an acronym to add to your customer-facing marketing; they are essential components of a successful business strategy of any firm that aims to remain competitive. As the glue that keeps social dynamics within a business and in turn, team competence and efficacy functioning at its highest capacity, it is indispensable to your hiring strategy, whatever your recruitment goals or objectives may be, and when done right, it can be instrumental in keeping your talent attraction and retention efforts on track.

It is perhaps concerning then, that firms are yet to treat it as more than an emerging trend in practice, and some go only as far as paying lip service when professing to make it a central part of their recruitment efforts. If you’re serious about taking your hiring game to the next level in 2024, then this is a great place to start. We look at how to build a DEI strategy that supercharges your recruitment efforts here.

 

Revisit Your Job Descriptions:

Job descriptions may be overlooked as daily legal tasks take precedence. Busy schedules can result in insufficient attention to crafting comprehensive and appealing job descriptions, making it difficult to attract top-tier talent.

However, as the hiring landscape evolves, legal candidates still rely on engaging, informative, and powerful job descriptions to assess whether or not they are a fit for their career aspirations and professional development. The best job descriptions go beyond skill requirements, offering a glimpse into firm culture and showcasing benefits that matter to the market’s top talent.

As law firms forge ahead with hiring initiatives, the importance of making your voice shine amidst the noise becomes increasingly important. If you want to turn the heads of the right people from the get-go and avoid a ‘square peg in a round hole’ scenario with regard to your hiring efforts, then your job descriptions must be compelling, engaging and effective enough to attract the market’s top talent. Find out more about how to craft a winning job description here.

Harness the Potential of Social Media:

The traditionally conservative legal industry may find it challenging to fully embrace the power of social media. The time and resources required for maintaining an active and engaging social media presence can be overwhelming for firms, leading to a lapse in this resolution, however, love it or loathe it – the fact remains that legal professionals will research the whole digital footprint of a firm as part of their decision-making process.

If you have the core channels set up and active, it’s always worth a holistic review of things like your bio information, and your wider content strategy. What kind of things do you communicate? Do you share information that gives visitors to those platforms a good idea of your working environment and culture? Is it obvious how you celebrate success? Can you utilise the voice of your existing employees to focus on things like career development?  A social media strategy is usually easy to flex and improve as and when you need to, so if that review wasn’t part of your new-year resolution, it’s always worth finding the time to conduct your due-diligence and ensure that your channels are working as hard as they can to put your best foot forward to those in the active talent pools.

Invest in Training and Upskilling:

Despite recognising the importance of investing in staff development, law firms may face budget constraints or a lack of suitable training programs. This can hinder the execution of the resolution to upskill existing staff – something that will no doubt be on the agendas of businesses up and down the country as the much-documented skills shortage becomes a harsh reality.

Similarly, what legal professionals look for in an employer has changed significantly since the pandemic and the value of career fulfillment has become a staple part of the modern legal professional’s priorities when searching for the ideal employer.

The notion of the one-employer-career has changed dramatically in recent years, and it’s not at all uncommon for legal professionals to be left with a lingering sense of stagnation after spending a few years building their skills in their current role, and consequently view the option of jumping ship as the only way to experience real progress in their career.

The resulting high turnover rate is what has brought the idea of Employee Development Plans into focus for law firms, with an aim to ensure ongoing employability through improving the individual’s workplace soft and hard skills, and industry knowledge. A good plan will strive to create a series of actions designed to help the individual develop and grow within the context of their legal career, while also developing their capabilities and meeting the needs of the employer.

Build and Maintain Brand Image:

Building and maintaining a strong brand image demands consistent effort and resources. Law firms may find it challenging to allocate sufficient time and funds to enhance their brand, especially when immediate client needs take precedence.

Candidates believe in what they can see now more than ever, and in an age where information is easily accessible online, maintaining a strong brand and a good reputation is essential for attracting and retaining top legal talent. Prospective candidates will research a firm as much as the firm will investigate the candidates’ qualifications and qualities and should your credibility fall short as an employer you can be filtered out of shortlists before a CV or profile is even read.

A proactive approach is therefore essential in order to positively influence one’s brand and reputation in the market, whether that be by building a workforce that acts as ambassadors that champion the business values, or convincingly demonstrating that your business does indeed walk the walk when it comes to employee satisfaction. Click here to find out more about how you can tap into the potential your employer brand carries and catalyse its growth.

Consider How Flexible You Can Afford to Be:

One might say that the hybrid working drum has been beaten to death ever since its meteoric rise in popularity among legal candidates during the pandemic. It’s hardly a secret to anyone keeping a close eye on the state of play across the industry over the last few years, and most if not all firms competing for the best talent available on the market will be well aware of just how highly sought after flexibility is by the talent pool in their current market.

And yet, this topic of flexibility remains a sticking point with some employers today, and as a result a barrier to rather than a buttress for hiring success. While that is in part due to expected challenges in marrying candidate and business demands, it is also due to the general rigidity legal employers are known to have towards changes to traditional modus operandi in general. When competition for talent is fiercer than ever before, can your firm afford to be flexible when it comes to working arrangements?

Ultimately, the crux of your success in your hiring efforts will come down to how well you can provide the best employee experience better than your competitors (and back it up). If it is indeed a viable option for your business then it should absolutely be part of your recruitment – and retention – strategy.  We take a deeper look at this and much more here.

In Conclusion:

With almost 11 months left of the year, arguably it is still all to play for when it comes to adherence to your annual business objectives. If however, the roadmap to growth has already hit some bumps in the road, especially when it comes to talent attraction, utilising the services of legal recruitment specialists will undoubtedly get those plans back on track with renewed insight about current market conditions and the movement of talent within your region and/or practice area.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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Navigating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Law Firms

  • December 15, 2023

Workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, commonly abbreviated as DEI, encompass the establishment of policies and procedures that actively promote the representation and involvement of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including varying genders, races, ethnicities, religions, ages, sexual orientations, disabilities, and social classes.

Creating an inclusive workplace culture has been high on the agenda of many businesses in the last few years and the benefits around this are much publicised – from aiding employee recruitment, engagement, and retention, to innovation, strategic growth, and performance of the business more widely.

In the context of law firms, embracing DEI principles is not merely a moral imperative, but arguably a strategic necessity. The legal profession, like any other, benefits immensely from a diverse array of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. In a multicultural and pluralistic society such as the UK, ensuring representation and inclusion in law firms is paramount to building trust, credibility, and legitimacy within the broader community.

Law firms that prioritise DEI initiatives are better positioned to address the diverse needs of their clients, who themselves come from various walks of life. A diverse legal team enhances the capacity to understand and navigate the intricacies of complex legal issues, thereby promoting a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to problem-solving. Moreover, fostering an inclusive environment within law firms is essential for attracting and retaining top talent from all backgrounds, ensuring that the legal profession reflects the rich tapestry of the society it serves.

The benefits are clear – and widely acknowledged across the legal landscape, but does that necessarily translate into actionable and implementable practices?

Arguably not…or at least, not at the moment.

A National Scandal?

Back in September 2023, Matthew Hill, the Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB), addressed the issue of diversity at the Law Society’s Junior Solicitors Network summit, asserting that the lack of diversity at partnership level in major law firms should be a matter of ‘national scandal’.

While discussing the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Hill emphasised that the new centralised assessments were not intended to instantly resolve all diversity issues. Instead, he highlighted the broader concerns of attracting individuals to the legal profession and making the legal career path universally appealing. Hill identified existing working practices within law firms, such as informal strategy planning in exclusive settings, as hidden barriers for individuals from diverse backgrounds. He called for increased transparency in progression and promotions, urging a re-evaluation of how seniority is perceived in the legal profession, emphasising the need for a more sophisticated model that captures the diverse richness of professional experience.

A recent article in the Law Gazette similarly highlighted that whilst the intake of trainees from a mix of racial, gender and socio-economic backgrounds has improved in recent years – the legal profession still faces huge challenges in retaining its diverse cohort – especially when it came to a seat ‘at the top table’ and making DEI a strategic management decision.

How Diverse Is the Legal Profession? Current State of Play

According to the latest data published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the United Kingdom at least, there has been a slow but steady increase in diversity among all lawyers since the previous survey in 2021, although there is still some way to go with certain diversity groups and categories.

Ethnic lawyers constitute only 18% of the law firm lawyer population, and the disabled make up just 5%, in contrast to the 14% representation in the overall UK workforce. While there have been some advancements in the US, similar patterns have emerged; the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) citing that although 28% of law firm associates belong to minority groups, only 11.4% ascend to partner positions.

While the lack of diversity and equal opportunities remains a significant topic of discussion in the legal industry today, it is not a new challenge. In fact, calls for enhanced diversity date back to 2008. As awareness among legal professionals regarding the significance of working for firms that advocate diversity increases, coupled with a growing client demand for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the question looms: How will law firms choose to address this issue?

DEI – A Recap

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe policies and programmes that promote the representation and participation of different groups of individuals, including people of different ages, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures, and sexual orientation.

Its significance in achieving long-term corporate success cannot be understated, as it forms an integral part of the firm culture that employees will be reliant on to achieve optimal performance. A good way to understand its role in business is to consider the following analogy depicted by former Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan, Robert Sellers:

  • Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party
  • Inclusion means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist
  • Equity means that everyone has the opportunity to dance

This metaphor is an apt way of describing how DEI policies are to work in practice. The CIPD confirms that while U.K. legislation sets minimum standards overlaying disability, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, among others – an effective DEI strategy goes further than being legally compliant. DEI implementation is meant to unite the best interests of both employee and employer by supporting and promoting the wellbeing and engagement of the former, which in turn adds increased value to the latter.

DEI and Business Growth

The business case for diversity has been well-documented since the McKinsey reports produced on the topic in 2014. Their latest published report still confirms that the case remains strong, with a few key findings indicating that the connection between diversity on executive teams and financial outperformance has only strengthened over time. Some of them include the following:

  • Companies with more than 30 per cent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all
  • A substantial differential likelihood of outperformance—48 percent—separates the most from the least gender-diverse companies

All encouraging signs that show what is possible with enough support and focus.

However, while there is a profound awareness of the need to step up efforts in DEI, this growing imperative is not reflected in practice. The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education revealed in 2021 that the overall attrition rate for associates was as high as 34% among legal professionals of colour. This was further corroborated by a research paper released by Thomson Reuters institute, which showed that women, minorities and LGBTQ+ associates represented the biggest flight risk for firms. Considering these are also groups that were found to struggle the most during the pandemic, this signifies a serious lack of impetus and action on the part of employers to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.

While it is indeed logical to assume that law firms do want to attract diverse talent, based on the data previously mentioned and the skills shortage problem many are contending with, it does not take away from the fact that barriers to progress still remain among minority groups and that the homogeneous and straight-and-narrow way of recruiting is very much still a prominent amongst legal employers, which is in turn affecting their ability to attract and acquire the talent they need.

Demand For DEI Initiatives Driven By Workforce

Interestingly our changing workforce increasingly wants to join teams that embrace diversity. A post last year on the LinkedIn talent blog revealed that employers that posted more about diversity received 26% more applications from women for example.

This data backs up The Psychological contract concept that first emerged in the 1960s related to our beliefs and expectations of our employers, confirming that employees want to work for employers with good practices where they also feel valued.

According to research from US firm, Eagle Hill Consulting circa 53% of workers stated that a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives play a key role in their decision about where to work. Yet only 29% of employees say their current employer has taken additional action to demonstrate a commitment to DEI in the past six months.

Fairness and equality are becoming ever more important amongst the Gen Z demographic cohort specifically – with research demonstrating that 77% of Gen Z consider it important that their company supports diversity.

Similarly, the latest research from YouGov, which looks specifically at attitudes of employees in Great Britain on the topic of DEI, found that two-thirds of working Britons (66%) said that the acceptance and inclusion of employees of all backgrounds is important to them when considering job opportunities – especially since a ‘substantial proportion of respondents’ had faced some sort of discrimination in the workplace themselves.

Looking specifically at the role of DEI in recruitment terms, Sandra Kerr CBE (race director of Business in the Community), pressed the point that businesses don’t “underestimate the importance of strong diversity and inclusion policies for jobseekers”. She also pointed out that “employers could miss out on potential talent if they do not ensure that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to grow and progress at their organisation,”

A stark warning indeed – particularly given the ongoing challenges around hiring talent and other variables such as a skills shortage and inertia to contend with.

Developing Your DEI Strategy

So, where do you start when it comes to developing a DEI strategy for your law firm? Conducting a sense check on your current practice is always a good idea, especially in light of remote and hybrid teams.

There is a well-versed quote from the personal development world that what you focus on grows. The converse is true. Perhaps the last couple of years have meant DEI, and its implementation has taken a back seat in your firm. We know from the latest headlines that the defined role of the ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ is waning, and there is more generally an exodus of DEI practitioners in businesses across all sectors.

And whilst this may, in part, have been driven by recessionary pressures or simply attrition, companies do concede that DEI in the workplace is still ‘mission critical’.

As recommended by Stephen Covey, the start needs to focus on the ‘end’ that the business has in mind. Assess your current state and where your desired state will be.

Your overall strategy needs to cover patterns in your ‘workplace’, whether that be remote or hybrid working; communication, both the what and the how; your L & D process and finally, how you will review your progress as you reinforce that your firm is the inclusive place to develop the legal career of it’s people.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive culture within law firms requires deliberate actions. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Recognise and Counter Bias – Promote self-awareness among team members by providing training on recognising and countering bias. Encourage reflection and learning about each other’s backgrounds, circumstances, and personal stories. Regular gatherings, whether in person or virtual, can facilitate open discussions and promote a more inclusive environment.
  2. Foster an Inclusive Internal Culture – Establish a culture that encourages open conversations about diversity and inclusion. Create opportunities for diverse groups within the firm to have a say in developing solutions. Have a clear plan in place to address bias and diversity issues, ensuring that every employee feels safe and heard.
  3. Embrace Inclusive Leadership – Leaders within the firm should embody inclusive practices and lead by example. Encourage leaders to listen to diverse perspectives and create opportunities for marginalised groups to thrive. Inclusive leadership sets the tone for the entire organisation and fosters a culture of diversity and inclusion.
  4. Utilise Data to Drive Progress – Measure the success of diversity initiatives by tracking relevant data and metrics. Setting clear metrics and goals allows firms to assess what is working and what needs improvement, and ultimately makes them accountable – especially when shared with all staff throughout the firm in question.
  5. Create an intentional hiring plan – If your goal is to foster law firm diversity and inclusion, then there must be a laser sharp focus on how this is considered when it comes to hiring new talent for your firm. The plan in question should, of course, fully align with your vision and objectives, but also needs to consider any potential for implicit bias when screening and evaluating candidates for the role(s).

On that last point, research from Resources For Employers highlighted that 56% of the Business and HR professionals surveyed said they did have initiatives relating to DEI in their recruitment strategy. And, whilst 24% said they didn’t, there were plans to put these in place.

The benefits of DEI in recruitment are clear, although implementation can be challenging. There may be unconscious bias at play, a general lack of diversity awareness within the hiring team or senior management, inconsistent measurement or evaluation, or simply a resistance to change.

Collaboration and partnership with a legal recruitment specialist may offer some assistance here – especially one that has a good understanding of your market, practice area, and region, and who has an extensive network of engaged candidates to approach about your role(s). Recruitment consultants can offer meaningful steps in the process including screening and helping to craft job descriptions for optimum success, and those worth their weight in gold will also abide by ethical recruitment practices and standards to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, fairness, and transparency is key.

Conclusion

The importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace cannot be overstated in today’s globalised and diverse workforce. A commitment to DEI not only aligns with ethical principles but also brings numerous benefits to organisations, including improved innovation, employee satisfaction, and overall business performance – as well as in the attraction and retention of top talent.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are not just buzzwords or indeed an acronym to promote and mention on the company website. They are essential components of a thriving and forward-thinking legal firm who understands that they must actively embrace these principles to ensure a fair, just, and representative legal landscape more widely. By adopting inclusive practices, fostering diverse talent, and committing to continuous improvement, law firms can lead the way in promoting a more inclusive and equitable future for the legal profession in the United Kingdom.

 

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability during that time. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal I.T. personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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Supporting Neurodiversity in Recruitment

The term “Neurodiversity” is not exactly new – although there is still arguably some uncertainty about what it means, and how specifically it is relevant to the world of work.. The topic has become a much-discussed aspect of DEI in recent years and the impact of its cultural recognition and widespread advocacy – having made many aware of the potential that lies untapped in this group of individuals – has seen the term not only find its way into everyday vernacular, but also spark a change in company hiring practices, with a genuine attempt now seen from businesses to understand and embrace the value such talent can offer, and strive to support them by adapting their hiring practices. 

But despite the focus on the latest update of today’s DEI initiatives, the question remains: has all the buzz translated into a real change in the fate of cognitively diverse professionals when it comes to employability?  

As widely acknowledged, diversity plays a pivotal role in recognising and embracing the inherent differences in human brain functionality. It should, therefore, be clearly reflected in a company’s recruitment process if they genuinely aim to empower neurodivergent candidates and support their success at every step of hiring. The significance of accommodating neurodiversity cannot be underestimated, as it profoundly influences the potential success of these individuals in any position they occupy. However, the question remains, do most recruitment processes today truly embody these principles?

Are Businesses Just Paying Lip Service?

The latest ONS research revealed that the employment rate for people with autism in the UK sits at just 29%, a figure lower than the rate for those with other kinds of impairment, with unemployment rates for the neurodivergent community overall at 30-40%.. A later report written by Auction, an IT consultancy, as part of a survey to investigate neurodiversity in work, found that a third of people with autism admitted that going through traditional recruitment processes was the most difficult part of their career. 

It was also found in a recent EqualTech report by SpartaGlobal that just 21% of survey respondents actually work for businesses that tailor their recruitment practices to neurodivergent candidates, despite 87% of them stating that neurodiversity will be an absolute priority for their companies in 2023. 

So, are employers simply paying lip service? While a lack of commitment to changing engrained recruitment processes to support neurodivergent individuals is a plausible (and apparent) reason for the disparity in expectations and reality, another probable one is the failure of employers to make this aspect of their DEI initiative part of a structured, wider recruitment strategy. Efforts to adapt hiring practices for the benefit of neurodivergent candidates are more often seen in only some stages of the recruitment process, rather than at every point possible, ultimately leading to a disjointed and ineffective approach. 

Eliminating Unconscious Bias In Hiring

Take blind hiring for example. It is a DEI strategy employed to eliminate unconscious biases that can arise from relevant but unnecessary information (such as names, age, years of experience, or level of education) that employers pick up at certain stages of the hiring process. It makes the employer unable to discriminate against candidates because of the lack of information that triggers unconscious biases.

While its value is clear, with successful implementation increasing the likelihood of candidates from minority or disadvantaged groups making it to the interview stage, its potential cannot be maximised unless it is supported by complementary strategies at other stages of the hiring pipeline. One such strategy is the targeted recruitment of neurodivergent candidates through the use of a talent pipeline, which addresses the fact that the strategy of blind hiring cannot increase the diversity of interview pools if not many candidates from the neurodiversity community apply in the first place.  

Building the Foundation for Holistic & Bias-Free Hiring

When talking about implementing complementary strategies, certain things must be set in stone. To begin with, a law firm must be clear on its objectives for its recruitment process. As the starting point and the thread that will be running through your entire recruitment process, how well your objectives are clearly defined and communicated throughout your team will determine the quality of the changes you make in your hiring practices and how effective they will be in facilitating the achievement of said objectives. Whatever that objective may be, whether it’s to improve efforts to adhere to corporate social commitments through an inclusivity-centric process, or to simply improve workforce productivity across the business, it must be well-conveyed and well-supported by the leadership team in the firm at all levels. 

Creating Your Target Persona

Once clear, your objectives should inform the creation of your target persona. The profile you create to represent your key target will not only give you a concrete idea of the skillset you are looking for in your ideal candidate but will also give you the opportunity to test and falsify pre-existing notions and ideas about what you believe is needed to be successful in the role. Are there any assumptions about the importance of social skills or personality traits in the performance of the role? What impact would it have on performance if these skills were absent? Critically assess your selection criteria to eliminate possible biases that can creep in, and ensure it is fully justifiable. 

 It is your target persona that will then determine how you rework and adapt your hiring practices, at every point of the entire recruitment journey. This aspect is where organisations tend to err in meeting the needs of neurodivergent candidates. The true purpose of the hiring process, which is to assess the necessary competencies and traits required for the role, as well as the candidate’s willingness and aptitude for growth, is only partly acknowledged, and at certain stages of recruitment.

This leads to the many flaws still seen in hiring practices, such as the emphasis on social interactions in interviews, which can be particularly difficult for some neurodivergent individuals who struggle with social cues and communication (verbal and non-verbal). 

Stage One: Effective Job Descriptions 

Any recruitment process built to facilitate the success of neurodivergent candidates must be reworked and adapted from the starting point to the endpoint; in other words, it must begin supporting candidates before they get to the interview stage.

Its success starts right from when candidates read the job descriptions that advertise these roles, and get both the information and the accessibility they need to proceed with the application, not simply one or the other. This involves things such as the kind of language used, as well as the choice of terminology to describe the skills required for the role. With job descriptions that are designed to cater to neurodivergent candidates, the watchword to follow is clarity; your choice of words should clearly and plainly describe the role and the requirements necessary to be considered for progression. Outline which ones are must-haves in a simple and presentable format (a simple bullet point of skills required works best here) but avoid unnecessarily broad and generic phrases like “must be a good communicator or “must have strong teamwork skills’’, especially if they are not traits required to be effective in the role. They attach an unneeded sense of exclusivity to the required competencies that can mislead candidates into thinking they are not adequately qualified to apply.

You can add in a section clearly listing skills that are desirable, but take care not to bloat your job advert with a skill wish list, as this can equally be as off-putting to neurodivergent individuals. 

Consider An Accommodation Statement

Another good way to demonstrate your willingness to support applicants is to explicitly let them know you intend to do so through an accommodation statement. This is a crucial but often overlooked aspect of job adverts (if they’re even included at all), as it can help to eliminate the source of their worries when considering applying. Letting them know that they will receive the necessary support and accommodation should they need it, helps to break down the initial mental barrier that can prove problematic during this first stage of the hiring process.  

Stage Two: Review & Interview

Whist an adapted ‘traditional’ application process is still the best method of assessing candidates for some businesses, unconscious bias does remain an issue at this stage, and the adoption of alternative evaluation methods can help to mitigate this. In addition to the practice of blind hiring suggested previously, you can consider using a scoring system against a set of questions. This approach puts the focus on experiences and skills that can be overlooked in favour of good CV writing skills or a first-class honours degree. Other methods like video submissions, workshops, and telephone applications are approaches you can and should be open to – the onus is on you to experiment and get creative with your recruitment practices! 

The interview stage has always presented the biggest challenge to overcome for neurodivergent candidates. And, whilst it’s not realistic to discount this stage in its entirety, they should not be the sole evaluation method, but balanced with other assessment techniques in order to provide a fairer and more accurate appraisal of candidates. For example, consider assigning less weight to interviews in the overall evaluation process and couple them with a work trial instead, to allow for a more skills-focused assessment of suitability for the role. 

Equally as important, is your level of proactivity in offering reasonable accommodations during this stage. Not only does this create the optimal conditions needed for the interviewing candidate to perform at their best, but it also helps to quell any anxiety that may arise because of the occasion. It also communicates a willingness as an employer to do everything you can to see that individual succeed. Whether this involves arranging for flexible interview locations, permitting the use of screen readers during online assessments, or even providing interview questions via chat during virtual interviews or before an interview to enhance accessibility, you should ensure you’re well-prepared to facilitate their success. 

Stage Three: Post-Interview Process 

Following the interview or review stage, the focus should be on providing constructive and prompt feedback to candidates. Avoid the common mistake of ‘ghosting’, and instead communicate your reasons for your decision on the outcome of their application process, openly and transparently. Let decisions made on their suitability be made primarily based on the competency demonstrated for the role, and avoid making hasty judgements based on what might be perceived as ‘awkward’ moments, unconventional body language, or a perceived lack of social skills, as these may not have any impact at all on the candidate’s ability to perform the job effectively. By building this two-way line of communication you are not only fostering transparency across the recruitment team but are also improving your hiring process. 

The recruitment process for any legal candidate can be overwhelming – and the same applies for the law firm itself, particularly when market conditions are challenging. Recruiting under pressure can mean that processes aren’t followed in the same manner, including ethical recruitment practices and standards, albeit temporarily. In short, practices designed to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, fairness, and transparency is key. 

Stage Four: Onboarding 

Although it is one of the less obvious aspects of the recruitment journey when the contracts are signed and the start date has been agreed, onboarding is a process that requires just as much attention and preparation as any other stage when welcoming a neurodivergent employee into your team.

Onboarding neurodivergent employees is not a one-size fits all approach. Employers need to be acutely aware of how their new recruit works, in order to understand how best to engage and optimise the potential their talent brings. 

Educating the existing team with diversity awareness training in advance of a neurodivergent colleague starting is crucial, as it will ensure that colleagues know how to communicate with the individual, learn about and understand particular characteristics and preferences while respecting their privacy & dignity. It also helps them avoid making presumptions about what the best way to carry out the onboarding process is. For example, common icebreaker activities that are used to help introduce new employees to the team can be quite stressful and anxiety-inducing for neurodivergent individuals and often end up becoming counter-productive. A better way to approach it would be to speak with your new starter beforehand to find out how best they would like to meet their new team members and ideally have a conversation with the management or other senior figures about their new colleague so that the team better understands what to expect in the short, medium, and long term. 

As such, a line manager or management team that is willing to be supportive and patient enough to train up their new employee is key to the success of their onboarding. They need to know that no matter the need, their manager is always approachable and available to help. This is also where the help and input of colleagues to help the new employee ease into their new environment can be instrumental. Quick but regular check-ins via email or inviting them out for a bite at lunchtime can go a long way in helping the individual to settle in and quickly feel part of the team.

And Finally

Much is written about the importance of organisations reviewing (and amending) their recruitment process to enable cognitively diverse candidates to showcase their strengths. However, recognising the value of neurodiversity in the workplace and facilitating their success, is just the beginning of a larger journey towards fostering an inclusive and thriving workplace culture. Efforts to support neurodivergent candidates should extend beyond the recruitment process, as neurodiversity should be embraced as an asset that brings out the unique perspectives and talents of all employees. This is how you as an employer can build an inclusive culture in the workplace and maintain a supportive environment, to ensure your workforce is fully optimised. 

In a much-documented skills-short market, ensuring that the proverbial net is cast far and wide is critical for law firms to remain competitive, and their hiring objectives on track. Revaluating your recruitment process is an easy way to tap into the wide range of neurodiverse talent who may have been overlooked for employment, or put off reaching out proactively by that critical first experience and interaction with your firm.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

 

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Posted By

Joel Okoye

Digital Marketing Apprentice