Transforming Early Careers Assessment for the Legal Industry 

Recruiting diverse, high-quality candidates into early career roles in the legal sector has long been a challenge. Amberjack completed a review of the typical recruitment process law firms follow and identified key issues contributing to this problem. 

Transforming early career assessment for legal clients, in the past year we have created an assessment process which lives our principles – assessing for potential, ensuring diversity and inclusion, and utlising assessment as an extension of attraction. 

Recruiting Early Talent in Legal: The Problems  

Conversations with clients highlighted two key challenges consistently arising from firms in this area. 

  1. Good work goes into attracting a diverse pool of applicants but candidate diversity in the pipeline would erode throughout the assessment process. Amberjack’s Insights data for 2023 revealed that for the Legal sector, Russell Group graduates are 3x more likely to be successful in their application. 
  1. There are high renege rates with early career talent (candidates initially accepting their offer but then accepting an offer elsewhere). 50% of firms agree that hiring and retaining talent is a high risk to future profitability. 

The typical process for early career recruitment in law looks like this: 

From what we know and have discovered about the hiring challenges in the legal sector, we have been able to identify two key areas where firms are not keeping up with best practice. These approached result in organisations losing high quality candidates, disproportionately from particular demographics. 

  1. The setting of restrictive requirements in terms of the academic qualifications needed in the application form phase, going against the general trend in the early careers market. 
  1. The use of a “hurdled” approach, where candidates had to achieve a high cut-score on a specific assessment before moving onto the next stage. This goes against The Psychological Testing Centre guidance for using online assessment tools for recruitment (British Psychological Society, 2006). 

The Solution: The Alternative to a Hurdled Approach 

A new approach is needed to challenge the historic reliance on academic requirements and certain cognitive ability assessments. This consists of three parts; assessing for potential, ensuring diversity and inclusion, and utilising assessment as an extension of attraction activity. 

Assessing for Potential 

Research suggests that sifting candidates based on application forms is problematic, evidence comes from Hoffman et al. (2015), Hunter & Schmidt (1998), and Oh and Shaffer (2016), to name a few. Academic qualification does not necessarily reflect the ability of your candidates. From part-time work to caring responsibilities, there are many circumstances that may impact academic results. By implementing academic requirements for your roles, you are likely disadvantaging candidates from lower socioeconomic candidates and other backgrounds. This is the risk of looking at experience and privilege rather than potential. 

Take a break from reality for a second. 

Imagine that you’re an athlete competing at the Olympics (a real stretch of the imagination for most of us, but hear us out)… You’re competing in the heptathlon; in a heptathlon, you compete in a range of events and are awarded based on the well-rounded view gained from your performance across tasks. This is what we recommend for your hiring process (well, not asking candidates to compete in a heptathlon, but you get the idea). A blended assessment approach which assesses for cognitive ability, situational judgement, and behaviours linked to the Amberjack Future Potential Model, provides an overall view of the talent in your pipeline. 

Historically, many firms in the legal industry have used a ‘hurdled’ approach to hiring. This has led to many candidates being rejected from the process based on a single test. However, if they were given the opportunity to demonstrate their full range of potential the outcome could be very different. 

Therefore, we truly believe that adopting a blended method is critical to providing a fair and inclusive process. 

Ensuring Diversity and Inclusion 

Back to reality now!  

At Amberjack, we ensure our assessment processes don’t favour individuals of certain backgrounds or with certain experiences irrelevant to potential. We believe this should be front and centre of your strategy. We do this through how we create assessment items, how we build our assessments (e.g., designing our assessments in partnership with diversity and neurodiversity specialists), and the technology we use to host our assessments (ensuring compatibility with accessibility technology). 

With only 3% of lawyers having a disability and women making up just 29% of partners in firms with 50 or more partners, significant work is needed for improving diversity in this sector. This is where our insights and expertise can help with the bias inherent to a lot of recruitment process and assess in new ways. 

Assessment An Extension of Attraction  

Another key challenge that needs considering in this industry is that of renege rates. With candidates applying to increasing numbers of early career programmes, the assessment process can’t be a duplicate process. It needs to set your organisation apart. Include brand-led, role relevant content which enables storytelling about the role, and your organisation. 

Changing Early Careers in Law 

Making changes in an industry with a long-standing history and rigorous processes is significant, but with methodologies like Amberjack’s, achieving results to better your potential and success as an organisation is achievable. Amberjack have seen up to 62-point increases in the net promoter scores (NPS) of our legal clients. 

We’ve seen success with several firms, such as Dentons and Hill Dickinson, and you can explore the impact of our work with law firms by getting in contact with us via our website

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