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Going green: the future of graduate recruitment

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Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent at Clifford Chance and founder of the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance, on paving the way for early talent teams to recruit in ‘a greener way’, ahead of her appearance at LegalEdCon 2022

Laura Yeates

As milk round approaches, law firm graduate recruiters tend to find themselves knee-deep in boxfuls of glossy brochures and snazzy gadgets in readiness for university careers fairs. But a new movement is now underway in early talent recruitment.

About two years ago a group made up of early talent recruiters, universities, and student bodies, committed to reducing their carbon footprint by placing sustainability at the heart of what they do. The Sustainable Recruitment Alliance has grown since launching in the summer of 2020 and now has nearly 60 signatories, almost half of which are law firms.

Laura Yeates is head of graduate talent at Clifford Chance and the driving force behind the Alliance. Yeates has been in the graduate recruitment game for nearly two decades and when we speak, she tells me her mission is to stop recruiters placing importance on material disposable objects and find more meaningful ways of building relationships with students.

“For me, it’s very much about empowering professionals in the industry to understand the impact of their activities, recognise the need for change and take action,” says Yeates.

Yeates tells me these ideas aren’t necessarily new — it’s something “more progressive employers were starting to do but couldn’t always find ways to articulate the reasons for the focus on sustainability into their messaging”, she explains. With the help of the Alliance, member firms can make more informed decisions and communicate these in more compelling ways to their target audience.

Yeates’ team at the Alliance takes a three-pronged approach to help member firms achieve their green goals: review, reduce and report. The first step of the pledge requires signatories to review their early talent processes and operations to identify opportunities to be more sustainable. It’s during this step that Yeates encourages firms to be critical of their practices and be open to change, as this will help them to reduce the amount of materials they produce or switch to sustainable alternatives. They will then report their progress so that the Alliance is able to calculate the joint impact of all pledgers, share best practice and resources.

Get involved with the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance

Founding member Clifford Chance, for example, has been on this journey for over seven years, charting its progress in a case study aptly named “the seven-year ditch”. The magic circle firm had been reducing the number of brochures and merchandise produced and begun re-evaluating its supply chains, but all this was accelerated when the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns hit, which shifted recruitment activity online. “In some ways it was a perfect storm and gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it”, reflects Yeates, pointing to Legal Cheek’s virtual law fairs, held each year in the autumn, as a way of democratising access to the profession. Clifford Chance has similarly made huge investment in online experiences with the launch of its global virtual internships. The work experience programme is open to everyone and serves as “a much better use of our resources than buying lots of mugs and highlighters, as it helps students build their knowledge and CV, which is much more valuable than unnecessary giveaways”, says Yeates.

Laura Yeates will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2022 on 12 May

And their impact on the environment is not to be underestimated. The Alliance reported recently the progress of its first year in action, finding that compared to the 2019/20 baseline data, emissions stemming from merchandise purchased by signatories fell by 89%, saving 149 tonnes of CO2 — roughly equivalent to 75,000kg of coal being burnt.

This doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the much-coveted law fair ‘freebie’, rather the Alliance advises ‘if you can’t ditch the merch, switch the merch’, and is re-imagining merch for the virtual and hybrid world we now live in. Clifford Chance has gone from ordering a variety of items in their thousands to investing in just two practical sustainable, regionally produced products: notepads and pens. The firm also scored an A* for eco-friendliness in our latest Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.

“We know our supply chains”, says Yeates, waving a yellow Clifford Chance-branded notepad at me across Zoom, adding: “We know where and how these are made, who they are manufactured by, and where they are transported and packaged from. We have the confidence to know exactly why we are using this.”

Getting to this point, however, has involved some chop and change. The firm decided one year to print bookmarks on recycled paper with QR codes directing to its website but soon did away with these because “they weren’t adding real value to the student experience and students told us they could easily find our website anyway”.

Moving to a more sustainable future isn’t just a priority for firms. There’s been a real drive among students to select employers based on sustainable practices and credentials. “Students will end up voting with their feet and join organisations that align with their values”, says Yeates, adding that the focus of this year’s impact report will be on the views of the Alliance’s target audience and the priority students place on sustainable careers and employers. “We want to start conversations with students and work with the new generation coming through to see how this sits in their list of career priorities.”

Students and student societies play a big part in furthering the work of the Alliance. It has a Student Advisory Board who advise the Steering Committee as to the changes they want to see implemented and the future direction of the Alliance. “We’re keen to hear from students, our target audience, and we love it when they speak our language — that makes for really interesting conversations with societies,” says Yeates. This could be anything from appointing a sustainability officer who is responsible for checking the society’s green credentials to building in and embedding sustainability to the executive structure.

For now, Yeates is continuing to raise awareness of the Alliance and actively encouraging more firms to sign up to the pledge and take action. She’s also looking to build on partnerships with founding universities Oxford, Nottingham and York to include more law schools and careers services. “It’s all about taking small steps and feeling empowered to make change within your sphere of responsibility. No step is too small — a group of early talent professionals can collectively make a huge difference to our carbon emissions,” says Yeates. “If they sign up to the Alliance and embed the pledge into their early talent strategy from day one — that to me is success.”

Laura Yeates will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2022, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 12 May at Kings Place, London. Final release tickets are available to purchase.

Get involved with the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance

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