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CV blind: Now there are 3 firms assessing wannabe lawyers without considering their grades

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Top 30 outfit Macfarlanes joins Mayer Brown and Clifford Chance in exploring new recruitment method aimed at broadening profile of the typical big law firm trainee — as wider City diversity push gathers pace.

Blindfold-crop

Places on this year’s Macfarlanes vac scheme have been determined by a ‘CV blind’ method that is already being used by magic circle outfit Clifford Chance to select hopefuls.

The 180 applicants who were invited for interview in February and March for this summer’s scheme were all assessed by a panel who did not know anything about their educational background. Selection for interview, however, did involve the consideration of CVs. Macfarlanes says the process will “almost certainly” be extended to its trainee recruitment.

Macfarlanes head of recruitment Sean Lavin said CV blind recruitment has been “reasonably simple to introduce”, adding: “If this small step helps to eliminate any bias in favour for or against candidates from particular backgrounds then we regard that as a good thing.”

The news comes after it was reported that London-based international law firm Mayer Brown is close to implementing this method of recruitment for its future trainee intakes. Clifford Chance’s CV Blind programme was first introduced last year.

The decision of three big name firms to adopt CV blind recruitment suggests it could be on the verge of catching on widely in the corporate legal world.

The trend has been driven largely by the recent trebling of university fees, which seem certain to have a negative impact on social mobility. This has led to a sense among law firms that they will have to act if they are to avoid becoming bastions of elitism (which some, of course, already are).

But the wider movement to boost diversity in City law — which has seen the recent creation of a diversity network called Aspiring Solicitors that is designed principally to help firms recruit more state-educated students — is related, too, to a 2012 decision by the Legal Services Board to compel law firms to collect and publish diversity data. This information includes solicitors’ socio-economic background and where they went to school, and is pushing firms to think hard about possible hiring biases they may have.

After a host of delays in collecting the diversity data, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) expects to publish the findings in “late spring”.

27 Comments

Not Amused

I am losing faith that any of this has anything to do with improving diversity any more.

It seems to me that a small number of individuals think they can make profit from this area. This is combined with a desire by certain universities who frankly under resource their undergraduate teaching and set low academic standards wanting to pretend they are “just as good” as other universities.

It all started with elite becoming a bad word. It’s not a bad word. It does nothing for poor children either but nobody *actually* cares about them. HR care about preserving engorging their jobs, individuals want to make fast easy money and bad universities want to stay in business.

What a horrible little world we’re building.

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Solicitor

I’m not amused by not amused.

“Elite” is a bad word if it becomes synonymous with “only those who have money may join us”.

Increased university fees does inevitably mean children from more modest backgrounds are put off from attending.

Any effort to overcome this separation between haves and have nots is to be applauded, whatever the suspected ulterior motive of any particular individual or department within the organisations mentioned.

Put forward your proposal, Not Amused, and allow us to applaud it.

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Not Amused

“Elite” would be a bad word if it were synonymous with genocide but apart from mangling the language I don’t see your point.

Children from more modest backgrounds attend the so called elite universities.

Children from wealthy backgrounds attend the rubbish universities.

A policy which pretends that all universities are equal when they categorically are not is foolish. Anyone promoting it must be suspect. If law firms wanted to actually improve social mobility they could sack the HR personnel involved and use the salary money to fund scholarships to Oxbridge for poor kids. Even better they could use the money involved to give Oxbridge admissions advice to every state school as well as practice interview and LNAT testing.

Goodness – look there we are in 20 seconds I’ve thought up a better scheme. It’s almost as though the people trying to sell this one AREN’T REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT HELPING POOR KIDS.

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dave

I may be naive, but I thought all universities charged the same fees (happy to be corrected). Therefore, which one you go to only depends on your aptitude, since some are more prestigous, and therefore choosy, than others. Being blind to this is a bit foolish really.

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J

All these people HAVE to have a degree to qualify. All semi-decent unis cost the same. So cost and wealth have nothing to do with it. The government funds your university education too, with loans. The best universities offer more bursaries than any other, making them even more friendly to poor teenagers.

Money has nothing to do with it – only YOU mentioned it.

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Random Law Student

I really think that these CV blind policies are a matter of appearance over substance, and actually have the potential to reduce (or at least not increase) diversity within top law firms.

It is both understandable and wholly commendable that firms want to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to submit applications, without fearing that they will be discriminated against because they do not go to an elite university or haven’t got straight A’s since secondary school. Someone who goes to a mid-level university and excels there may apply for a vacation scheme safe in the knowledge that the fact they don’t go to Oxbridge will not immediately disadvantage them in the interview. The legal profession needs diversity and, at least at face value, this is what CV blind can achieve.

But I rather wonder whether a CV blind scheme is conducive to achieving that goal in substance. Whatever people’s views about Oxbridge, there is one thing that is certain: its tutorial system is superb at manufacturing students who perform well under pressure and in interview-like situations. In vacation scheme interviews, they are – on the whole – more likely to be smooth and quick-thinking than those from other universities who may well actually be more intelligent than them. If the interviewer knows that someone goes to Oxbridge, they can take that in to account; they can look past the facade and really drill down in to whether the interviewee has what it takes to be a trainee and beyond. On the other hand, if the interviewer knows that for whatever reason the interviewee does not go to a ‘top’ university, they will be able to use that information to look past a certain roughness around the edges (due to a lack of one-on-one tuition), knowing that the roughness could be smoothed out over time were they to be given a place.

So here is my fear: although CV blind is certainly likely to encourage a more diverse range of students to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts, it may actually result in a greater proportion of more ‘disadvantaged’ students being turned away at the post-interview stage because their interviewers were unaware of circumstances during the assessment. Take Clifford Chance as a perfect example. One of my friends (who has been offered a vacation scheme there) told me that around 1/3rd of the people on the email list for the scheme went to Oxford. How is that an improvement in diversity? Yes, perhaps they had a greater proportion of state school or lower socio-economic class students applying; but did they end up with a greater proportion of them actually getting an offer? It doesn’t look like it.

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Dave

You’re all looking at this the wrong way.

Sure, the panel don’t look at CVs. But do the CVs just get ignored? Of course not. The people who go before that “Blind” panel are still hand picked in the first stage.

It’s a cute idea until you look at it practically. Prejudice does not start in the interview.

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J

I am really struggling to see what’s wrong with considering the universities attended by your candidates. While not a perfect indicator, it is a very strong indicator of the likely ability of the candidate before you. You have to be very good to get into Oxbridge and it makes you even better. The ability gap widens once you get to Oxbridge.

Ok, we all know some amazing kids missed out on Oxbridge and there are some amazing kids out there who are better than Oxbridge graduates.
SO WHAT?! The recruiters will look at the application and go “oh yes, although not at Oxbridge, they are amazing. Let’s have them then.” It’s not like the recruiters randomly pick Oxbridge candidates – their job is to get the best graduates: it’s in their interest to pick the best ones, and that means looking at all unis for those rough diamonds.

So the policy is ridiculous unless your grad recruiters are so poor at their job that they fail to spot any good candidates outside of Oxbridge.

Finally, let’s please stop assuming that we are helping “diverse” students get a job by helping poor universities. Poor kids go to Oxford. Rich ones go to Manchester Met. It’s a huge PR farce and all it will do is piss off Oxbridge candidates.

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D_T_T

I agree with J. If the exercise is simply about ignoring the university, it is not automatically going to increase diversity. Plenty of first-generation to university, state school pupils at Oxbridge. Plenty of wealthy, privately-educated students from legal career families, who have little real need for diversity initiatives or special consideration to get on in life, who happen to be studying elsewhere. If anything, giving someone a chance because they went to a good university levels the playing field for intelligent kids with no legal work experience, connections or inside track on how getting one of these jobs might work. Excel at school, go somewhere decent and you have a better-than-average chance of getting a job is how it has been previously, and that’s allowed a lot of people a way in. Unless the exercise also takes account of social background it is somewhat pointless in boosting diversity stats. “Oh we have someone who went to X university instead of Oxford.” Great, tick that diversity box. They could be third or fourth-generation university educated, have parents who are lawyers and went to an expensive school, but given they mucked up their A-levels and got in somewhere lower down the league tables in Clearing (say), that’s diverse?

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Not Amused

I am genuinely delighted we all agree. So who is going to write to the managing partners of Macfarlanes, Mayer Brown and CC and let them know?

Alex – could you be a dear and let them know the flaws in their obviously silly (but admittedly headline grabbing) scheme (in the case of CC) and desperate bandwagon jumping (in the case of the others)?

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Dave

Some confused responses here.

If the old method of picking all the guys with 5 As at A Level and an Oxbridge degree worked so well, HR wouldn’t be going down this new route.

HR aren’t in it for fun. They may not always pick the right way to do things, and I do think the best way is a good old fashioned interview, but their motive is end product. They don’t care about the candidate or where they come from, only whether they bring money into the firm.

As I said. If the old way was so good, why would they bother fiddling with it.

Its time we stopped obsessing about Oxbridge in this country as the be all and end all.

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J

In answer to your question: to appear more diverse, impressing the general world (better publicity) and students. It’s hard to stand out as a law firm and this method shows that you aren’t just ‘another stuffy city firm’.

I could be wrong but I doubt CC is struggling as a firm because of the poor quality of its graduates (I’m not suggesting it’s struggling at all). It receives thousands of applications and I imagine picking some decent trainees isn’t a hard task.

I just don’t get who this policy actually benefits. Universities will be considered at some stage of the process, removing all those not excelling at less good universities. Those that excel at weaker unis get through to interview. The stronger candidates probably would have applied anyway, and no one cares about weak candidates from weak unis.
Any law student with any ability will apply to big firms, I know plenty of poorer candidates from less difficult unis apply.

Who isn’t applying? The kids from disadvantaged backgrounds with no confidence. These are at all unis, Oxford and Cambridge included – they offer significant financial support for anyone who needs it, making sure no one has to drop out because of money problems.

The strong candidates from elsewhere apply anyway. The weaker ones don’t, but you don’t want them anyway, and the really disadvantaged ones are unable to level the playing field using their academic ability because suddenly the biggest way to show this isn’t allowed. The Oxbridge candidates are pissed off.

Get in one student from Anglia Ruskin every year, stick them in the recruitment brochure and voila.

I will gladly accept Idefeat if someone can put forward the case for these policies, but I’m struggling to see it at the moment. They seem pointless and false (can you really go through a whole assessment centre without mentioning your uni?)

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D_T_T

Dave, I’m not sure I see much confusion really, simply a consensus that as presented, it’s hard to see how this scheme actually actively improves diversity. Is there an aspect to this we are missing?

This is a scheme that will deprioritise university and grades in favour, presumably, of how a candidate writes their application and performs at interview and assessment day. If I have got that wrong, someone correct me. If anything, then ruling out precisely what a bright kid has going for them and putting the emphasis on self-confidence and “putting yourself forward” at assessment day is going to work against state school kids who got to the best university they could and, it seems to me, to the advantage of those with families and friends who know how it all works.

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Trainee Legal Exec

Sure, hire loads of under-grads and have them do paralegal word for half the price whilst dangling opportunities for progression. Good one.

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Denning

If firms are motivated to sign up to ‘cv blind schemes’ by assuming that it increases diversity and helps them comply with E&D requirements, rather than a publicity stunt, I think the problem may be bigger than we have a handle on here – I imagine there are other firms and chambers who operate the same policy but don’t actually publish it.

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N

I think some people are missing the point here by failing to look at it in a wider context.

A lot of people from more disadvantaged backgrounds live in poor areas where the state schools do not provide adequate education and support for their students. This means, for some of them, that they do not get the grades to get into the top universities even though they may be very intelligent. They may go to university and do well, although their state school has not taught them how to study independently, etc. However, it may be too late for them to get into top law firms because they choose the top candidates from the top universities. They may have brilliant extra curricular activities and pro-bono work on their CV and be great at interview, however, given the emphasis some law firms place on the type of university you go to means they will never pass the paper sift. Knowing this, they may decide not to apply in the first place.

I am not saying all candidates from wealthier backgrounds went to better schools than all candidates from less wealthier backgrounds but I think it is true for a lot of people. It is a problem that starts from school age, not sixth form/university age, and it seems that these law firms are recognising this which should be applauded.

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D_T_T

Actually, rather than missing the point, most posters have taken a more nuanced view than you have. Once again, purely ignoring university and managing to scoop up privileged kids who under-performed academically (which on the data presented, the CV-blind policy seems perfectly capable of achieving) does nothing for diversity. Is there any evidence this policy doesn’t do that? I haven’t seen any. Alex, do we have data on the socio-economic and (school) educational background of those coming through via this policy?

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Jim Nately

There is a lot of opinion masquerading as fact here. The statistics can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/206994/FINAL_Higher_Education_-_The_Fair_Access_Challenge.pdf Two key points arise.

1. Oxford and Cambridge have the lowest proportion of state-educated undergraduate students and the lowest proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups. The proportions are significantly below the rest of the Russell Group.

2. The Oxbridge recruitment process favours students from more advantaged backgrounds. Among students who have the requisite grades and make an application, a student from a private school is more than 3x more likely to get an offer than a student from one of the least advantaged schools.

It is quite wrong to suggest that all students have equal access to Oxbridge. I think this may be why certain firms are making a point of widening their net.

I can only speak from my experience at the provincial Bar, but I have noticed that any advantage Oxbridge students enjoy at the start of second-six is wiped out within a couple of months of being in court every day. The ability to cut it in court seems to depend on something other than university education.

Perhaps the big commercial solicitors are finding the same is true for whatever it is they do.

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Not Amused

It’s not opinion to point out that poor people from state schools go to Oxford and Cambridge. You endorse discriminating against them because ‘in general’ state schools are less able to get children in to Oxbridge.

You damn them twice. For what reason? None save some vague and nebulous belief gained at the provincial Bar.

If you genuinely cared you’d be doing something to increase the chances of poor kids going to Oxbridge. But you don’t. You’re just grinding your axes and damning the poor kids who achieve while you do it. I am unconvinced by your motives. Your logic makes no sense at all.

“fewer poor kids get in to Oxbridge so we must punish those who do”

*slow hand clap*

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Jim Nately

I may be being dimwitted, but you will have to explain how it is discriminatory to conduct interviews where the interviewers don’t know which university the interviewees attended.

You might also explain how the Oxbridge candidates can suffer a detriment if nobody knows they are Oxbridge?

I’m afraid I cannot see how it is more discriminatory than a firm troubled by the possibility of racism attempting to combat it by blindfolding the interview panel and referring to all applicants as ‘Susan’.

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Not Amused

Academic achievement is an inherent part of a recruitment process. If you remove academics then you remove an essential selection criteria and you discriminate against the candidates with strong academics in favour of candidates with weaker academics.

If you blindfold the interviewers in contrast all you remove is potential racial prejudice. You might cross certain other boundaries (like personal freedom) and so your blindfolding might not be inherently reasonable …

Your inability to understand this might indicate that you, wrongly, believe all university grades to be equal. This is sadly not the case (although I would and have advocated such a move, it would likely be extremely unpopular with weaker universities when they were exposed as massively underperforming – set a universal grade standard and you will soon see certain institutions where almost no one passes).

You favour removing academic selection from the system. That would then naturally put all of the selection pressure onto the interview. Further, while I am willing to accept that good academics/intellectual ability is probably not the only quality needed in solicitors – it probably is still in there somewhere. Such a system would I fear, be more likely to allow individual prejudice by interviewers to enter in to play.

Always remember that the more discretion and the more nebulous a concept (and you stated you were effectively unable to define yours) in selection criteria then the more room there is in selection for bias. The answer by an interviewer “I don’t know why but I just think he’ll be great” is sadly *more* likely to be secretly based upon prejudice than it is to secretly be based upon a set of fully reasoned and objective selection criteria.

If you were genuinely unaware that universities do not have an equal grading system but are instead each entirely free to set their own academic standards, then I apologise for being harsh (though in balance you could be called ‘lazy’ because it’s not that hard to find this out). If you did know then your comments make no sense at all.

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Jim Nately

My understanding is that it is merely the interview that is ‘CV-blind’, not the entire recruitment process. That is what the article says. Assuming that is right, nobody is putting forward the argument you are disagreeing with. Most of your points are totally irrelevant.

I genuinely don’t know what qualities city firms look for, but it seems to me that you don’t need to know where a candidate went to university to test his or her ability to think under pressure, work in a team, understand complex legal frameworks or look for typos in an insurance contract. If an employer devises an objective and practical system for testing each of these attributes then CVs are of fairly limited use.

My chambers uses a blind paper exercise and a CV semi-blind advocacy exercise (i.e. the interviewers only know what stage the interviewee is at) in conjunction with a traditional interview and CV sift. I don’t know if we have ever taken someone with unimpressive academics as a result of an excellent practical exercise, but we have rejected otherwise excellent candidates on the basis of a poor advice or following an unsatisfactory performance in the advocacy exercise. We do, of course, use a pre-determined criteria for assessing both exercises.

Neither of these exercises would be improved by the assessors knowing what university the candidate attended. If this is the method these solicitors are adopting, I cannot see how your arguments help you.

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Not Amused

See reply to Fanshawe

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D_T_T

I agree with Not Amused. Oxford and Cambridge being privileged institutions, we should ignore a state school pupil’s academic achievement and the calibre of university that they attended as that will level everything out. I still don’t see it myself (and without my Cambridge degree marking me out I don’t think the nervous state-school pupil I was and still am in many ways would have got anywhere).

Private school kids, by and large, have in-built advantage: confidence, the way the present themselves, contacts, a whole way of life that state school kids (and I was one) struggle to fathom. Let’s take away the need for them to have three grade As. Ok, now they will not be disadvantaged by having their poor A-level grades and lower-ranked university overlooked. These candidates will often shine at interview because they talk the talk, and “balance out” academic failings by adhering to the same frame of reference as the people interviewing them.

With reference to the studies… I accept that Cambridge and Oxford have a lot of privately-educated students. Now we have got that out of the way, again, can anyone demonstrate CV-blind = more state school? It doesn’t do any such thing in and of itself. There are initiatives out there designed for state-school pupils and those who are the first in the family to university. CV-blind is clearly not along the same lines. The cynic in me says you will simply find yourself at the end of the process with a clutch of University of Sussex and Manchester Met graduates from nice middle-class backgrounds. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong but still see no evidence of this, just more “Oxford and Cambridge are elitist.” Show me CV-blind means more diversity please?

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J

Quite a key point here I think. Now, diversity may be important (arguably slightly less than everyone makes out, it’s more moral for a business not to be prejudice but I don’t think they have the same moral duty to be diverse as, say, a university) but the way firms are responding just doesn’t add up.

Firstly, if the aim of the firm is to increase social mobility, they would be doing this by using some of their profits to try and change the natural logical bias against state school children (they have worse teachers, bigger classes, a staggering number of teachers are somewhat moronic in that they believe Oxbridge isn’t for state school pupils and actively advise their pupils against applying (40% teachers, at least off the top of my head, think Oxbridge has more private school pupils than state school pupils)). Using a CV blind policy will make a minimal impact. If they want to change the world, go out and do it. So I don’t think it’s about wanting to make a real difference. I’m skeptical as to how much of a moral difference a business can make to the world without radically changing it”s structure and the way it operates (ie remove focus on profit as the bottom line).

Secondly, if the aim of the firm is to improve the quality of its graduate workforce by broadening its horizons, I don’t see why a CV blindfold is needed. Unless HR is seriously deficient they should be able to look past the name of the university. They should be able to spot good candidates from other unis without blindfolding themselves. A professional in recruitment should be able to avoid the dazzling shine of Oxbridge if they so wish.

Or is the problem really with the partners who interview? A few ‘old-school’ partners who are snobbish about who they take and only want Oxford/Cambridge men from ‘good backgrounds’.
If that’s ^ the real problem and the only way to fix it is to make public the CV blind policy, so be it. I somehow doubt that it is, however, and either way it’s frustrating to see so much publicity around something which probably won’t make much difference. I guess that’s something I’ll have to get used to when I leave uni and get involved in business of any kind.

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Fanshawe

I don’t see how a system based on considering an applicant’s essay (e.g. Clifford Chance) could be considered to be problematic. In my view, it seems to focus the recruitment process a little more on those qualities which are relevant.

If going to a better university makes a candidate smarter, then that candidate will write a better essay. The entire value of academic achievement from a recruiter’s perspective is surely that it is evidence of qualities which are thought to be valuable (e.g. intelligence, work ethic). It is not in itself a quality of any value. Different universities are distinguished on the basis that degrees from them are thought to evidence these qualities to a greater or lesser extent. An essay tests your ability to think. This is the thing that recruiters are trying to assess by making judgements about the universities people went to. Your university is a readily understandable proxy for this (in the minds of many people). Using an essay instead seeks to redress the balance between candidates from good universities who don’t have the relevant aptitude/potential and those from less prestigious universities (or who are otherwise paper-deficient) who who do have that relevant aptitude/potential.

Also, perhaps a distinction should be drawn between (i) making a recruitment system fairer and free from bias and (ii) redressing imbalances in representation. It seems to me diversity is used interchangeably to refer to these two things. While they overlap, they are not the same thing. Dealing with (i) will make recruitment more meritocratic, but there may still be imbalances in how representative a pool of successful applicants is. This is because privilege doesn’t just enable you to cut corners, but can just makes you a better candidate (e.g. because you’ve had a better quality education). This is a much broader societal issue which falls somewhat outside the remit of law firm recruitment.

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Not Amused

Well in principle you are right of course, although you are really just highlighting that the Clifford Chance scheme is not what it claims to be because it does have open academic selection.

As to your suggestion of an essay. In practice if you are a big HR department dealing with thousands of applications then you might find it easier to rely on knowing the university AS WELL AS setting your own essay – there’s no obvious reason why they need to be mutually exclusive and it’s probably a good thing not to ignore 3 years of work and all of the other academic achievements.

You see interviews, academics, internal testing they are all only part of a proper selection process. No single one of these tools could or should replace the other.

What people, rightly, object to with these CV Blind schemes is the way that they risk actively discriminating against poor children and the way in which they wrongly suggest that all universities are equal. That doesn’t mean that the many people opposed to these silly CV Blind schemes advocate a “if they’re Oxbridge give them a TC automatically” process.

We are, well I am and I suspect a fair few others are too, more worried about the active harm that peddling this sort of cheap, attention grabbing nonsense does to real social mobility.

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