We are committed to ensuring that the Scottish legal profession is open to all, says Olivia Moore
Education has a vital role to play in encouraging social mobility, but employers also have their part to play.
Growing awareness of the tangible benefits of having a diverse workforce, is encouraging employers to think more about their recruitment practices and the value of understanding the impact their own unconscious bias may have in putting up barriers for those candidates outwith their usual recruitment pool.
The Law Society of Scotland has launched a pilot programme which aims to help legal employers in Scotland find new talent, while improving the chances for people from less-advantaged backgrounds pursue their dream of becoming a solicitor, through the use of technology which can help identify potential in people who may have had to overcome barriers on the route to qualification.
Social mobility underpins a lot of our outreach work to help ensure talented individuals can progress through the legal education and career pipeline, ultimately ensuring that the legal profession is accessible to all individuals with the drive and talent to join the legal profession. Universities have been operating contextualised admissions schemes for some time. However if employers do not take such an approach, students who have been able to study law through a contextualised process may well find that their opportunities are limited at the traineeship recruitment stage, undoing positive work to support social mobility.
Increasingly we are approached by employers asking what they can do on a practical level to improve social mobility at their firms or organisations. They are looking for a tangible solution which will not only provide opportunities for talented young people to succeed, but which will help them find excellent recruits for their business.
We know that contextualised recruitment helps uncover what external factors may have contributed to a candidate’s grades and experience, and helps identify self-motivated, driven people. Individuals who have had to overcome numerous barriers to achieve a certain outcome demonstrates they might well have performed even better if those barriers didn’t exist.
No one should be prevented from becoming a solicitor based on their upbringing and we are committed to ensuring that the Scottish legal profession is open to all and can reflect the communities it serves. Using a contextualised recruitment system is one of the key policy recommendations from the Social Mobility Commission in its 2019 report and we have recently launched a pilot programme in partnership with Rare, which provides cutting edge data services to help employers make better hiring decisions as part of their trainee recruitment processes. We are facilitating a collective scheme which will see employers pay a set fee for each trainee solicitor who is recruited, allowing firms or organisations which may usually take on just one or two trainees – and are therefore much less likely to invest in such software – to participate for a small cost.
The contextualised recruitment system allows recruiters to understand candidates’ achievements and experiences in context and allow employers to extend their recruitment toolkit and consider an individual’s circumstances and analyse the background and any barriers to academic performance of potential trainee solicitors. The system examines wider personal circumstances, including those which may have prevented an individual from performing to their fullest potential, for example if they were a young carer or had to work to help support their family, grew up in a low income household or attended a low-performing school where academic results are well below the national average.
We are looking forwarding to seeing the results of the pilot, which is open for participants until summer 2020, and the impact it could have on improving social mobility for candidates who may otherwise be overlooked through traditional recruitment processes. Law firms Dickson Minto and Morton Fraser are already participating in the scheme and we are encouraging more employers to get involved. We want to remove any barriers there may be for people who have the potential to become fantastic Scottish solicitors and hope that by making the most of available technology, employers are able to find the best people for their business, regardless of their background. To find out more, see www.lawscot.org.uk/rare
Olivia Moore is interim head of careers and outreach, Law Society of Scotland