Blind Hiring: The Future of the Legal Profession?

blind hiringThe Future is Now, as we at the Commission have been repeating the last few months. The future of legal services, the future of our profession, the future of education, and the future of diversity and inclusion is evolving as we speak. What will diversity and inclusion look like in the future? It might look “blind.” Blind hiring that is.

Biased for the Best

Last month, Harvard Law graduate and former Harvard Law Review editor, President Barack Obama, nominated Harvard Law graduate and former Harvard Law Review editor, Judge Merrick Garland, to the U.S. Supreme Court. If appointed, Judge Garland would join four fellow Harvard graduates on the bench. He would also join three Yale graduates and one Columbia graduate. In fact, of the 48 Supreme Court Justices who have ever attended and graduated law school, fifteen attended Harvard, six Yale and two Columbia. According to Yale Law graduate Justice Clarence Thomas, “I think we have to be concerned that almost all of us are from two law schools.”

Are law firms in danger of sharing the same bias as the highest court in the land? The National Law Journal recently published an article listing the most popular law schools for BigLaw jobs.  The names shouldn’t be surprising – Columbia, Penn, University of Chicago. In fact, the names are practically the same as they have been for the past ten years.  When I was at my BigLaw firm, the number of NYU and Columbia graduates was overwhelming, so much so that my fellow Michigan Law grads and I would sneak out to a corner and say “Go Blue” in quiet defiance.

But, the argument goes, certain law schools are known quantities. We want the best and we hire the best. Perhaps. But it is equally true that you might get mediocre candidates who get in the door because they tested into highly ranked law schools, and overlook candidates who may be a better fit for the present and future of your law firm but who don’t have the pedigree behind them. As a 2009 study found, LSAT scores are not particularly useful in predicting lawyer effectiveness.

A Different Approach to Hiring

Clifford Chance might agree. Clifford Chance is a top British law firm. Many of its lawyers were “Oxbridge-trained”, in other words, studied at Oxford or Cambridge in the UK. In response, Clifford Chance adopted a blind hiring policy for the last stage of their recruitment. While they do winnow through the applicants’ universities in the initial stages, in the final round, interviewers are not given any information about what university the applicant attended. All they have is the candidate’s name. The result? The firm increased the schools it recruits from by 30%.

Clifford Chance is only one of many organizations, legal and otherwise, trying out the brave new world of blind hiring. Essentially, it’s a way of removing as many identifiable characteristics from an application or resume (school, age, gender, name), to overcome whatever implicit bias an interviewee might have toward a person.

Don’t think that implicit bias exists? Consider that in a Chicago and Boston field experiment, researchers found that job applicants with white names needed to send 10 resumes to get a callback while job applicants with black names had to send 15 resumes. The difference in callback rates – 50%. A white name, according to the research, yielded more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. Another study – when female coders submitted a revised code to an open source software platform, the approval rate was 78.6% when their gender was unknown. When their gender was identifiable however, the approval rate plummeted to 62.5%.

Overcome Biases with Blind Hiring

If you’re an organization looking to overcome those biases, there are companies out there willing to help. One such company, GapJumpers, creates tests to mimic what applicants would do on the job. GapJumpers removes all identifiable characteristics from an applicant, including name, graduation year, college and address. It then creates tests for an applicant to take, developed in conjunction with the client. The highest scorers are forwarded on to the hiring manager. It therefore takes the same approach as Clifford Chance but from the opposite end of the spectrum. According to GapJumpers, as of 2015, 54% of its blind interviewees were women, and 46% were men. 58% of those selected to an interview were women and 68% of those hired were women.

Of course, blind hiring is only the beginning. Getting diverse talent integrated throughout the organization is next. Every attorney brought in the door needs to have access to the same resources, opportunities, feedback mechanisms, and high quality clients, regardless of the attorney’s gender, race, background, or, yes, law school.

So consider what a lawyer needs to be successful at your law firm. Think about the skills necessary for lawyer effectiveness and success – creativity, problem-solving, competence, dedication, analysis, networking, sales, professionalism. Those are skills that many not reflect in test scores, transcripts, and law school rankings. And that twenty-minute on campus interview? That may only get you candidates who fit an already pre-formed mold in the mind of your interviewer, and even your law firm as a whole. Take another look at blind recruiting and interviewing. You might be surprised at what you find. And who knows? Maybe your next blind hire will end up on the 2050 short list for a nomination to the Supreme Court.


A version of this post will appear in an upcoming issue of Legal Management magazine in Michelle’s Millennial Mouthpiece column. 

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