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Ethical Recruitment: Helping to Define Good Practice in Your Hiring Strategy

  • January 12, 2023

The recruitment process for many businesses can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and costly. Add in the tail end of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and political instability, and the process soon becomes a minefield.

Yet the objectives remain the same for those responsible for hiring within their Law Firm – retain, engage, and motivate their existing people, and attract top talent in line with growth and business objectives.

As businesses in many sectors, law included, battle skills shortages and a shrinking workforce, vacancies remain unfilled and incumbent teams are smaller -putting pressure on service levels, productivity, and ultimately profitability.

When market conditions are challenging, it is easy for Hiring Managers and/or Partners to make rash decisions or have a temporary lack of judgment. Recruiting under pressure can mean that processes aren’t followed in the same manner, including ethical recruitment practices and standards, albeit temporarily.

But what is ‘ethical recruitment’ exactly? And why should it help to guide your recruitment strategy even more so when times are tough?

Ethical recruitment – a definition

Ethical recruitment as a searchable term has a number of definitions that focus on everything from inclusion in your DEI policy to unconscious bias and the legalities of working conditions and non-discrimination.

Whilst the above undoubtedly should be a considered part of your general hiring practice and standards, ethical recruitment in general terms can be defined as ‘practices designed to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, fairness, and transparency’.

In even simpler terms, it is about doing the right thing – and in hiring, that relates to the jobseekers and candidates you are hoping to attract to your firm.

Why is ethical recruitment important?

The last few years in particular have seen a spotlight on the importance of an ‘EVP’ (Employer Value Proposition) – the way, or ways that your Firm differentiates itself from its competitors when it comes to attracting talent.

Fundamentally it is a list of specific and unique benefits an employee can expect to receive when they join your firm – but also seeks to communicate and describe what your company stands for and offers as an employer.

Whilst your EVP should unquestionably be viewed as a tool to impact retention of existing team members (ultimately creating advocacy amongst employees to further engage (and promote) the business from within) it is also an essential part of a firm’s hiring strategy and chance to showcase to the market why your law firm is the first choice for jobseekers in that particular region or practice area.

As well as communicating tangible rewards (remuneration, benefits, bonuses), a firm’s EVP should also seek to demonstrate its vision, values, good standing, and reputation amongst its own customer-base and existing employees.

The recruitment of new members of the team – the end-to-end process, therefore, undoubtedly impacts the latter point here:

Your Firm’s Reputation

Acting with the candidate’s best interest at all times is a fundamental part of ethical recruitment and needs to be considered from the very outset and start of the hiring process. Your firm’s reputation in a competitive market will be a key element in a jobseeker’s decision process – and how you treat potential employees is key.

This includes being honest and transparent in your job advertisements, accessibility, and general communication throughout the process.

Quality of Candidates

Jobseekers, particularly in a candidate-driven market, are looking more intrinsically than ever at their potential new employers. From their corporate social responsibility endeavours to ways they demonstrate their values and vision, legal professionals who are actively looking for a new opportunity are looking beyond salary and the once-heralded annual bonus.

Rather, they are looking for firms that take the time to understand their own ambitions, long-term career aspirations, personal development goals, and motivations.

Demonstrating all of these things in your hiring process will undoubtedly lead to a ‘better’ quality of candidate – facilitating the right long-term fit as opposed to just filling the position.

Financially Logical

If a firm has to backfill a position or is struggling to hire a seat that brings in fees (or business leads), the impact on the bottom line can be significant. Yet making snap decisions in the hiring process can be equally as damning financially.

A recent article in Forbes looks at this exact problem and likens the impact of hiring the wrong person for a role as a ‘crack in a dam’ that you may not notice at first, but in time will ‘deepen, widen’ and ultimately collapse. The cost of a bad hire therefore should not be underestimated.

Ensuring that your hiring process is fair, consistent, and purposeful is key to ensuring you not only attract quality candidates but ensure that those you engage with are already a good fit and committed to a long-term career with your firm.

Putting ethical recruitment at the heart of your hiring

There are a number of steps a firm can take to ensure that ethical recruitment is a considered element of their overall strategy. Whilst not exhaustive, these include:

Recruiting candidates without discrimination

Discrimination in the hiring process often comes down to something called ‘unconscious bias’ that can affect judgement and decisions around who to interview, offer and hire.

Even today, businesses across all sectors struggle with diversity, so having practices that mitigate bias and promotes fairness as part of a wider DEI programme is key.

A McKinsey study in late 2020 found that diverse team members struggled the most during the pandemic and a lack of awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion issues continue to negatively affect employees even now. The data also confirmed that diverse teams tend to achieve ‘more.’ Therefore, it is logical to assume that law firms want to attract diverse talent in a competitive business environment.

So how can a firm seek to mitigate any bias in their hiring?

  1. Consider anonymised applications (names, photos, address omitted)
  2. Consider skills-based assessments rather than CVs that focus on qualifications and education
  3. Ensure your interviews are consistent (structure, flow, question set, interviewers)
  4. Consider interviewer ‘panels’ rather than the same interviewer

Move the process forward with cadence

Not to be confused with moving ‘quickly’, moving at an appropriate pace is important as it ensures that candidates in the transactional part of the process (CV review, interview, negotiation) are kept informed of progress and not left wondering about their options.

‘Ghosting’ candidates is a strict no-no. Legal professionals who have taken the time to update their CVs and covering letters, engage with a recruiter or gone through lengthy applications, taken part in virtual or face-to-face interviews, prepared business cases, or in the very least researched your firm and your people deserve the respect and swift response throughout the hiring process.

Once again, tardiness here can impact not only your professional reputation but can also impact your firm competitively if that candidate has a number of options on the table.

Transparency and Honesty

Communication and regular updates are at the centre of ethical recruitment practice. This starts with the job description and associated advertisements which themselves should provide clarity about the role, expectations, and responsibilities.

Individual feedback following applications may not always be realistic due to the volume and time needed to do so, however ensuring that communications around what an applicant can expect should be a bare minimum, ie an auto response that advises that successful applications will be contacted only.

Feedback following interviews however should be mandatory – and regardless of the subsequent decision, should be professional, respectful, and honest.

Partner with an Ethical Recruitment Partner

If you are responsible for hiring at your firm, whether that is your sole remit as a Hiring Manager, or an element of your role in HR or even as Partner, ensuring that ethical recruitment runs throughout your supply chain is key, including the use of recruitment agencies that you partner with.

Selecting ethical agencies is harder than it sounds, but there are some key things to look for that echo the main points above:

  1. They have a good reputation
    …Check their website and general digital footprint for case studies and testimonials from other law firms AND jobseekers. Whilst on the face of it these focus on the outcome of a ‘filled role’, what else can you ascertain about how the candidate was treated, or the service that the consultant provided to the firm?
  2. They are affiliated with an organisation or membership body that focuses on excellence and good practice
    …Recruitment as an industry is not legally regulated, yet many agencies choose to be part of a professional body that is dedicated to quality, professionalism, and trust. These organisations (such as the REC or APSCo) ensure that the agency is informed of any legislative changes within their sector and also provides members with the information, intelligence, ideas and support they need to be compliant and act in the best interest of clients and jobseekers alike.
  3. They take the time to understand the role, your firm, and your requirements
    …Building long-term professional relationships is the sign of an ethical recruitment business. They are not interested in just filling a role and moving on to the next, but take time to understand your challenges, your motivation, and your specific requirements in detail before representing your firm with their candidate pool.
  4. They only shortlist candidates that are a fit
    …In a similar vein, agencies that scatter-gun CVs that are irrelevant only demonstrate that they have not understood the brief or your firm, or indeed the candidates that they represent in the market.
  5. They adhere and respect your own processes
    …Whatever your individual role in the hiring process for your law firm, you will undoubtedly have your own internal processes to follow – whether you invite speculative CVs, only work with agencies on your PSL, or have a recruitment portal. An ethical recruitment agency will respect these processes and seek the relevant permissions from candidates regarding representation before liaising with you according to your preferences.

In Conclusion

Whether you use the services of recruitment partners or not, ethical recruitment practices are essential to embed and maintain, as failure to do so can damage your professional reputation and general ability to hire, at least from a long-term perspective.

If you do choose to seek help with your hiring via a recruitment agency, then taking some time to conduct your due diligence into their own reputation and processes is essential as failing to do so can certainly come back to bite you, and by association, can be equally as damning.

At Clayton Legal, our reputation and good name in the legal sector has been built up over 25 years, and as members of APSCo, fairness, transparency, and ethical practice is a real driving force that we instil into our own processes. If you are actively hiring at the moment, we’d love to be a part of that conversation and talk to you in more detail about our approach, our market knowledge, and the movement of talent in your region.


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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