Moulds remain unbroken
Monday, July 17, 2017
Justinian in Clerkships, Law firms, Law students, Student-at-Large

The diversity mirage for clerkship applicants ... The second round interview is more akin to social vetting ... An applicant's "likeability" is the key ... Our Student-at-Large complains about the charisma quotient 

AS the clerkship application deadline looms for the year, students across the state scramble to cobble together over-achieving CVs and responses to the world's big questions - "what inspired you to study law?" 

The hope, the expectation is that years of law revue dance rehearsals, student law society committee meetings and late nights in the law library will land them the key to that soon-to-be six figure salary at one of Sydney's top commercial law firms.

With an increasing number of graduates churned out of law schools each year, and a dwindling number of jobs (don't forget to mention artificial intelligence in your cover letter!), the competition - or "Hunger Games", as The Australian Financial Review aptly called it last year - is getting hotter. 

Yet, there has been a change in the tide - law firms have become more concerned with "diversity", assuring applicants that their firm is the paragon of meritocracy in a once nepotistic profession. 

Long gone are the days when inequity was an accepted part of the game, to be replaced with all manner of new-age recruitment methods, with firms now "reaching out to candidates who don't fit the mould". 

King & Wood Mallesons boasts a process that blocks out information including a candidates name, gender, address and high school. Instead, there's a "contextual" recruitment system that takes into account whether candidates come from a disadvantaged family, or rural or isolated area.

They are not the only ones "reaching out". With firms holding practice interviewing sessions, hackathons, cover letter writing sessions and practice group presentations in the lead-up to applications, the old barriers to entry appear to have crumbled.  

There's one key holdout from the glory days, though: the first and second round interview process for applicants. 

Once a candidate has passed the first round, the remaining path to securing the coveted elevator pass is a contest of who's most well versed in the middle class art of managing small talk with a canapé in one hand and a drink in the other. 

While wannabe management consultants are given problems to solve, and the public sector drills its graduate hopefuls with assessment centres and all manner of logical, numerical and verbal reasoning tests, many law firms still adopt an interview process that is more like a dinner date.

Substantive legal questions are generally unheard of. Instead, an interviewer will throw in a behavioural question or two, but the biggest test is simply likeability. 

Since the partner interviewing you is more likely to be a theatre going, marathon running, ex-GPS boy, than someone who went to a public school in rural NSW, the deck is stacked in your favour if you meet that descriptor too. 

It's tough: firms want to find people who fit their "culture" and who will one day be able to schmooze satisfactorily with their private equity clients, and at the same time they want to give all applicants a fair go.   

One's ability to charm is no doubt relevant to assessing suitability in a services industry, but industries with similar needs currently assess this as part of structured interviews that evaluate attributes more relevant to the role at hand.  

If firms are truly interested in breaking the mould, it will take more than de-identified recruitment processes and presentations at universities. 

The real solution is a more a meritocratic interviewing process that is not largely related to charisma, but which aims specifically to assess, as other industries do, people's aptitude for the day-to-day minutiae of the job. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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