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How COVID-19 has revolutionized the recruitment of aspiring lawyers

How COVID-19 has revolutionized the recruitment of aspiring lawyers | IE Law School

On October 29, we celebrated the IE Talent Forum - Law Firms in a virtual format. Over 250 people joined, including students and alumni looking to meet recruiters from over 50 law firms who joined the event to identify the best talent.

“Law firm selection processes are increasingly being brought forward in Spain. Top talent is identified and selected as early as students’ third year of university. This trend is a reflection of what’s been happening in the US for many years,” says Liova Castillo, Talent and Careers Director at IE Law School.

How COVID-19 has revolutionized the recruitment of aspiring lawyers | IE Law School

In this changing environment, COVID-19 has also made a huge impact, forcing law firms to rethink recruitment—and in record time. For some years now, processes have been increasingly digital-focused and technological. Now, nearly all take place entirely online. Even job fairs. On October 29, the latest Talent Forum at IE Law School took place in a completely virtual format. Over 250 people joined, including students and alumni looking for an alternative career. Also in attendance were over 50 law firms trying to identify the best applicants.

This is one of the advantages of the dissolution of physical frontiers. Thanks to the digital format, international firms like Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton can hire qualified professionals in Spain for their Brussels office, without physically traveling to the fair. Recruitment has gone global. And, as a result of the pandemic, faster than ever before.

“Every company, consultancy and firm has a set way of conducting selection processes. Over these past few months, many of these steps have shifted online,” explains Castillo.

There are online application platforms, video interviews and virtual group exercises. Many tools have been deployed to try to keep up with the usual pace of hiring. Generally speaking, law firms have stated that they are hiring a similar number of lawyers as normal. However, the reality is that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on new hires, with the market contracting.  Even so, firms have not relaxed their policies when it comes to competing for the best talent.

As for the onboarding of new hires, in the last few months it’s been carried out in a gradual manner and usually in shifts so as to respect workplace restrictions. In addition, remote working has become an increasingly valuable and practical solution, and it’s clear this method of working is here to stay.

How are law firms operating amid COVID-19?

During the Virtual Talent Forum we had the opportunity to speak with recruiters from top law firms and companies. This is what we learned about how they are reimagining their recruitment processes in times of COVID-19.

Virtual escape rooms to attract new talent

How has recruitment evolved at EY? Rocío Rodríguez, head of recruitment and development at the firm, says that “the total number has not changed, but the dates themselves have. In order to be on the safe side, this year we haven’t onboarded as many lawyers in September as normal. However, we are planning on carrying out onboarding intermittently throughout the year and we envisage that, by the end of the year, the numbers will be very similar.” On the other hand, “as far as selection processes go, certain processes were already digitalized, although the current situation has forced us to go 100% digital. The most important change has been to group exercises. These are now completely virtual and take place through initiatives like the escape room.”

Completely virtual selection processes

“COVID-19 has forced many companies to rethink their processes. Right from the beginning, it was clear that a key element has to be continuing to commit to hiring the best young talent. That’s why we have carried on with remote assessments, and this has shown very positive results. Our selection processes feature the same steps as before: group exercises, individual interviews, and assessment days with partners and business directors. The only thing that has changed is the format. Now, everything takes place online. Although it’s true that we were already using videoconferences as and when needed for certain candidates,” explains Laura Asiain, HR Director at PwC Tax and Legal Services.

Evaluating candidates with an online methodology

“At KPMG Abogados, we were already using more virtual methodologies in our hiring processes when it came to the initial evaluation of a candidate (e.g. tests and phone screenings). However, obviously we have had to make some adjustments in order to virtualize some of the activities we were doing in person, like the group exercises, team case work, presentations and individual interviews. The health crisis has pushed our existing commitment to innovation and digital transformation to adapt even more when it comes to transforming our methodology and evaluating the same competencies,” says Estefanía Caballero, HR manager at KPMG Abogados. “Taking on interns has stayed the same as before,” she added.

Returning to face-to-face contact after the pandemic

“At Deloitte Legal, we have maintained new junior hires and master’s students in law in 2020. We have just begun the selection process for evaluating students for entry in 2021. Our process has evolved into a completely virtual one. The first phases—the online test, gamified group exercises and the interview—already used technology, and we have since been adapting the main element: our talent assessment center,” says Cristina Prados, Talent Director at Deloitte Legal. “In any case, as soon as the health situation allows, we will resume face-to-face interactions with our candidates, which we believe are of vital importance.”

“Our goal is to maintain training programs for our most junior lawyers”

Samuel Rodríguez, HR director of Allen & Overy in Spain

Mentors to facilitate interactions

The HR director of Allen & Overy in Spain, Samuel Rodríguez, explains that “the most direct impact we’re seeing is that we’ve transformed from an entirely face-to-face process to a completely online one. We are still evaluating the same competencies but in a different way, always guaranteeing that our candidates share our firm’s values. When it comes to onboarding, initial training has taken place in person with appropriate safety measures being taken. Once this initial training is completed, our junior lawyers join the already established working shifts with mentors who help them throughout the onboarding process. Our goal is to maintain training programs for our most junior lawyers.”

A totally digital welcome

“At Pérez-Llorca, we have maintained the projected growth for taking on master’s students as interns, respecting all offers that were accepted and concluded prior to the health crisis. Various professionals began working from home during lockdown, and the challenge has been to digitalize the welcome process and ensure that they feel integrated into the team, despite not being in the office and having face-to-face contact with other team members. Using videoconferences for selection processes is something else that we already had in place, and this hasn’t caused any further difficulties for us. Moving internal training programs online has been another challenge,” says Eva Delgado, HR Director at Pérez-Llorca.

Pre-recorded virtual interviews

“We have maintained selection processes for vacancies in the most junior bands in the firm, both for internships and newly qualified hires, despite COVID-19. In terms of selection, we’ve put in place a two-phase selection process. Firstly, candidates complete a pre-recorded video interview. The next stages can be done online or in person. However, for the candidate to receive an offer, they must complete one of their interviews in person,” says Victoria de la Calle, HR and Recruitment Director at Baker McKenzie. “When it comes to new hires starting their jobs, we’re adapting to each individual situation.”

Indefinite hires following internships

“The exceptional circumstances brought about by COVID-19 have not led to major changes in the hiring of junior lawyers. Regarding new additions for the next financial year, we will advertise the same number of vacancies as before for master’s in law students who are undertaking internships. In addition, we will make double offers so that, once they’ve completed the mandatory internship, they will join the firm indefinitely and begin their professional career with us.  When it comes to the selection process, there are no significant changes to the type and number of tests we present candidates with,” says Jorge Pérez, head of recruitment at Gómez-Acebo, although these tests are indeed carried out online.