Struggling to Enhance Your Legal Team Diversity Amid COVID-19? Consider Alternative Hiring Paths

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A lack of diverse hiring is an issue that has been endemic to the legal profession – long before widespread 2020 racial justice protests brought this problem to the forefront. There have been many initiatives to “right the ship,” such as associations and affinity groups setting diverse hiring goals to encourage the advancement of diverse legal leaders. For instance, the Black GC 2025 initiative and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s “20×20” initiative both elevate diversity as a focus in the legal profession. While efforts like these are encouraging, there are still significant strides to be made to advance diversity and inclusion within the legal industry.

Leverage Interim and Remote Talent

While organizations often have well-intentioned diverse hiring goals, they can perceive it to be an impossible task because traditional local, full-time talent pools often create a feeling that there is a lack of diverse candidates. One productive first step, however, could be to take advantage of non-traditional avenues, such as interim legal talent, where demand across the board has been surging during the pandemic as candidates increasingly seek nonconventional work arrangements.

Although the pandemic has had several negative market impacts, COVID-19 has also created a culture that is reshaping how businesses look at their operations. Legal teams have proven they can work remotely while still effectively providing legal counsel, and the days of being glued to a physical desk from 9-5, Monday through Friday, are rapidly fading. As more legal departments explore alternative work arrangements and more positions become location-agnostic, hiring partners can access essentially unlimited geographies and more diverse candidates. In leveraging the current environment and considering interim talent, law firms and legal departments can make a meaningful first step toward creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Additionally, because remote hiring provides the unique opportunity to reach a greater number of diverse candidates, even those markets that admittedly have less varied candidate pools can now achieve their diversity hiring goals. For example, some organizations have partnered with historically black universities to increase access to job opportunities for graduates of these institutions. In doing so, firms can tap into a consistent source of diverse candidates, and candidates can access job opportunities they may not otherwise have considered or even have self-selected away from. Other effective initiatives have included mentorship programs that partner diverse law students with corporate and legal organizations to offer internship opportunities, allowing candidates to receive valuable hands-on experience. Short-term or project-based hiring can help more organizations form these types of relationships.

The trend toward virtual recruiting and hiring has also resulted in other unforeseen positive impacts on diversity in the workforce. One example of this is increased opportunities for individuals with disabilities. While working in office space may prove more difficult for some individuals and create barriers to entry, shifting to a remote model has allowed these candidates to show employers that they can perform their job functions just as well from home. In some circumstances, these individuals would not be able to properly work in an in-person capacity, so remote work has opened opportunities that may otherwise have been closed off to them.

How to Find Diverse Talent

Diverse hiring efforts for many organizations begin with internal talent acquisition teams. Therefore, it is imperative for these teams to constantly be learning and utilizing new sourcing and networking techniques.

Networking events have been a traditional means of reaching large concentrations of potential candidates (whether in-person or virtual as of late). As a requisite, internal recruiters should participate in these events and join affinity groups but they need to go further. While networking organizations allow recruiters to connect with desirable candidates, internal recruiting teams then need to invest in these candidate pools to develop strong relationships— beyond just attending these events and collecting resumes. Recruiting teams can form meaningful connections by offering their expertise to help elevate these candidates. This may include things like organizing resume workshops or mock interviews.

Equally important, recruiters should be advocating for atypical candidates and preventing self-selection away from available positions. Internal recruiters need to be cognizant of the prerequisites in the job descriptions they post for their organizations and focus on the necessary skills rather than pedigree. Many highly skilled candidates have not attended top 20 law schools and listing these types of requirements results in a detrimental self-culling of candidates. The close mentorship relationship established early on between recruiters and their candidates will help many candidates who might otherwise be overlooked because they will have an advocate who understands them and the intrinsic value they bring.

Zerega Consulting

For those who do not have robust internal recruiting teams, reaching out to external recruiting firms that are in close contact with available talent pools is a great place to start connecting with and interviewing—and ultimately hiring—more diverse candidates. External recruiting resources can also be key to bolstering diversity numbers. Often, external teams have a better grasp of the nationwide talent pool in a way internal teams do not.  Leveraging the wealth of knowledge that comes from dispersed recruiting services can be key to finding missing diverse candidate pools. Recruiters bridge the gap for diverse candidates who are both outside the typical market and the typical pool.

Diversity of thought remains tantamount to developing and maintaining thriving companies, as it ensures a variety of perspectives that increase creativity. Many markets have continued to fall short on diversity hiring goals. Companies need to continue to innovate and change, and employers must use the resources available to them. The remote work environment that has resulted from COVID-19 is a unique opportunity to cast a wider net and tap into diverse candidates like never before, meet diversity hiring goals, and ultimately, fulfill a societal responsibility to even the hiring playing field.

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