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Invest in the long game: how Clifford Chance is breaking down recruitment barriers for black lawyers

Clifford Chance has “invested in the long game” in order to address some of the barriers preventing diverse groups, especially black talent, from choosing a career in law.

Speaking at the 2022 People in Law Conference last week, the firm’s head of graduate talent Laura Yeates revealed how a combination of virtual internships, relationship-building, use of technology and myth-busting have helped the firm to “democratise” access to the legal profession.

“Our overriding ambition has been to do two things: to hire the very best talent into the firm, and to be seen as employer of choice for every single demographic we’re targeting,” she said.

Clifford Chance has worked with graduate recruitment diversity specialist Rare for the past decade to help it reach untapped talent pools and identify candidates that “outperform” expectations based on their educational and socio-economic background.

Rare founder Raphael Mokades said Clifford Chance’s candidate pool was already quite diverse when their relationship started, but now almost half of the firm’s trainees are from ethnic minority backgrounds and 15% are black.

“The movement in the last five years has been really quite dramatic on the recruitment of non-black ethnic minorities, but the number of black ethnic minority people being recruited remains rather low [across the legal profession],” he added.

Clifford Chance uses Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System and its Vantage platform, the latter of which is designed specifically for law recruitment, to identify a diverse range of candidates for its graduate schemes and internships. Around 20,000 students have created profiles on the Vantage platform, 16% of whom are black.

Yeates said using Vantage has allowed the firm to ensure there is diverse representation at every event it runs.

One of the initiatives Clifford Chance has introduced is its global virtual internship programme, an educational curriculum that would traditionally been accessed via Clifford Chance’s application-only schemes, but is available to thousands of students and recent graduates across the globe. The firm has reached 110,000 people in the 18 months since the programme was launched.

It has also launched a “real contract” video and brochure campaign this year, where partners, lawyers and trainee lawyers give their “warts and all” accounts of the life of a trainee.

“Let’s be brave enough to say what it’s really like – the highs, but, more importantly, the lows, and what you need to sacrifice,” said Yeates. “The misalignment of expectations causes problems for everybody – the candidate who’s come in on a false promise and the business that struggles to get what they really need from their trainee pool. This has to be about more open and honest conversations from the start.”

Clifford Chance is open about the candidate journey and shares data about how many people from diverse groups achieve training contracts with the firm.

“These are questions your early talent teams get asked, and for some reason [recruitment professionals] are not comfortable talking about them,” she said, adding that recruitment teams should not be afraid to talk about their equality, diversity and inclusion strategies and how the firm is tackling bias.

The firm’s recruitment team focuses on building relationships with high-potential black candidates through LinkedIn, which Yeates said can often sway candidates’ decision if they are choosing between a role at Clifford Chance or another firm.

High-potential candidates are sourced using Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System. Candidates are awarded a score on its performance index, which helps firms understand the context around a student or graduate’s academic performance, especially those that are “resilient outperformers who have attended schools with low-average grades”, said Mokades.

“If, for example, you’re getting AAA from a DDD [average] school, that puts you in the top 1% of outperformers nationally,” he said. “Studies have shown that if you tend to outperform at school, you will continue to outperform in the workplace.”

Other initiatives to improve diversity at Clifford Chance include:

  • Removing group projects from its assessment requirements, as data showed these adversely affected people from minority groups
  • A two-year development programme for young talent that Clifford Chance runs from year 12 to the end of candidates’ first year of university. It focuses on building skills and competencies in 12 areas, which the firm believes helps improve success for candidates from black and lower socio-economic backgrounds
  • Revamping pre-employment screening, moving from the logical reasoning test to the Watson Glaser test.

Yeates said improving the firm’s ability to recruit from diverse backgrounds has not been a quick and easy task; it has required careful analysis of data and investment from the firm.

“This is not about a single one-off activity – this is about investing in the long game. That might be changing assessment processes over a number of years based on what the data shows, or it might be about building meaningful development programmes,” she said.

The firm is also considering how it can improve retention of black lawyers, by equipping colleagues to speak up if they encounter discrimination or unfair treatment based on an individual’s characteristics.

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