A law firm's Summer Associate program serves as a critical and direct feeder for its full-time Associate roles. Hiring committees see thousands of candidates coming from dozens of law schools every year. Yet, according to NALP, only 5,574 2L’s were offered placement in a summer program in 2020 (latest available data), with an average class size of 11 Associates.
The combination of endless talent pools and limited Associate positions requires firms to make cut-off decisions that at first glance, make sense: law school reputation and GPA. GPA is typically interpreted as a measure of achievement, or more specifically, an estimate of intelligence. Interviewers often use this as a quick way to determine if a candidate is smart enough for the job. The ranking of a law school is also used as a proxy for intellectual ability, as well as an estimation of the rigor a candidate can handle.
However, we know from already established research that these two metrics can cause adverse impact, or bias, against certain demographic groups. Socioeconomic status has been shown to have a positive relationship with academic achievement. Additionally, there simply are not enough persons of color admitted into the top law schools for Summer Associate programs to be adequately representative when compared to the US’s population demographics, without first expanding recruiting efforts to be more inclusive of candidates from a much wider range of schools. These challenges have caused diversity to remain an industry-wide concern, with the legal industry underperforming related to issues of diversity and inclusion when compared to other professional services.
In 2021, our inaugural year serving the legal industry, Suited partnered with six law firms to help them address these issues. Suited’s inaugural law partners were interested in adopting new technologies to address the overabundance of applicants with no way to easily, quickly, and accurately identify high potential talent for their firms, and the difficulty reaching representation when only being able to consider a limited number of candidates each cycle.
Here’s what we learned:
GPA, law school rank, and other traditional resume factors are not highly correlated to attorney performance
Looking across the thousands of practicing attorneys that have completed our assessments, we are able to compare how much of an attorney’s on-the-job performance is explained by different factors. Traditional screening criteria like where someone attended law school and their GPA actually explain very little, meaning they are not particularly good predictors of future performance. Yet, in absence of other available information, they are the most often used criteria for firms to narrow down their applicant pools to a size that can be managed in their processes.
Using Suited results in a greater degree of accuracy when predicting performance
By considering truly predictive attributes, including psychometric traits and cognitive competencies, combined with the power of AI to interpret this information, firms can ensure more accurate talent decisions resulting in more high performers and fewer hiring mistakes.
Using Suited’s predictions instead of GPA as a screening metric eliminates adverse impact from the selection process
Based on thousands of 2021 Summer Associate candidates assessed by Suited this cycle, using a GPA cutoff alone would result in substantially fewer Black, Hispanic, and Asian candidates being selected than White candidates. For example, using a GPA cutoff of 3.5 would result in Black candidates being selected at only 38% of the rate of white candidates. Combined with how little GPA correlates to job performance it is clear this metric causes more harm than good.
In contrast, using Suited as a basis for candidate selection results in equivalent selection of candidates across demographic groups, thereby eliminating adverse impact from the selection process.
Looking ahead to what's next
We are excited to continue this work with more firms for the 2022 Summer Associate cycle, including:
Allen Matkins, Cadwalader, Haynes & Boone, Moore & Van Allen, Sheppard Mullin, Skadden, Sullivan & Cromwell, Troutman Pepper, Willkie, and Wilson Sonsini.
As we collect more data from practicing attorneys and law students, we will continue to update the industry on the insights we learn and the impact seen by the firms in our network.
We wish law firms, students, and schools good luck as they begin their recruiting efforts. We hope that recruiters and hiring decision-makers will remain open minded to candidates outside of their typical requirements, as doing so may increase the likelihood of attracting high-performing talent, while removing biased and non-predictive hurdles for candidates with diverse backgrounds and skills.