This article first appeared in the Lawyer's Daily.
Often the legal industry talks about how progressive their own law practice is without critical examination into how their own recruitment experience closes the doors onto so many.
I get it, stuffy government jobs all need to follow the same process. I do not agree with a standardized process because, for me, all that says is that there is likely a toxic element to the internal culture and that some people who will be interacting with candidates need to be controlled/reined in.
I also get it that some places need to hire HR help and those HR folks don’t get the lawyer talk. I had an interview with one place who was looking for someone who can help with their outreach to Indigenous communities. The HR person didn’t recognize one name of the communities I said I worked with; I said I wasn’t interested immediately after the end of the interview. If you want to do pre-interviews or screening interviews, at least get someone who can make the pitch to the candidate as much as you want the candidate to make pitch to you.
As for those unconscious bias training sessions that your firm does? Here is a pro tip: racism, sexism, ableism and all the other -isms are not unconscious; it is learned; they are alive and well, and we all play a role in our unlearning; meanwhile, engaging in surface level unconscious bias training just tells me that your firm is too scared to fire the likely openly racist people you employ (otherwise, you wouldn’t have an alleged unconscious issue).
I was invited to speak on a panel on how to hire more BIPOC people in your law practice. It went well; I cried. I always cry. I don’t cry because I am weak. I cry because I am frustrated. The things I say and speak about are not revolutionary; they are, in fact, quite simple. I often advocate for being paid, too — revolutionary! Imagine paying Indigenous women for what they worth? I can only imagine!
When the legal industry talks about inclusive hiring practices, they often only imagine the recruitment journey beginning at the time a potential candidate submits a CV or perhaps, even earlier, when potential candidates see and view in the career opportunities page. What message or values does the career opportunities page, or your career posting convey? Prior to opening my own practice, I have lived and worked throughout different parts of Canada and worked on a number of different projects on a nationwide or international scale. I have encountered some horrible hiring practices since this time and honestly, I think the legal profession can do better to humanize its approach to hiring.
Sure, you need to optimize your process to weed out those who are not relevant; yet, who exactly are you attracting if you are attracting those who have the best key words. Perhaps, more appropriately, who are you weeding out with these keywords? Think of your recruitment processes as an opportunity to check in with your inclusive hiring practices.
Pre-COVID-19 and when I was invited to in-person interviews in other jurisdictions that required travel, my concerns did not relate solely to the cost of travel but also the time and preparation to prepare for that journey. For example, travel to some places requires you booking a taxi well in advance; taxis do not sit in plentiful numbers at the airports for some jurisdictions.
If this is the case and for me, as an Indigenous woman still healing from a broken ankle (two spots and unable to run at the speeds I could before the break), this would mean ensuring that I tell my mom the taxi cab company I hired, telling her when I land, taking pictures of the taxi cab (and its number) I am in, telling her where I am staying and texting her to tell her I am safe in the hotel room.
I can vividly remember the times from cities like Boston, London, Toronto or Ottawa, where the drivers would take me on detours in the opposite directions (forcing me to jump out of the moving car) or drop me off in dark, unlit areas (forcing me to walk in the rain, to dive bars to use the phones and call for help). It’s hard to imagine this still happens but I do my best to have my friends or colleagues pick me up in different jurisdictions if they can — it’s the only way I can feel safe and not have to worry about the added planning/anxiety. The journey to your law firm doesn’t begin at your reception area.
Are your recruitment practices helping candidates feel safe in their arrival to your law firm?
When I did have in-person interviews, sometimes this meant also securing accommodations nearby. Being an Indigenous woman, this means that I am targeted with discriminatory and arbitrary “incidental” fees. Most hotels charge anywhere from $100 a stay or a night but I have been told that the fees for a one-night stay in downtown Toronto was $500 at one point; this was despite my insistence that I wouldn’t be using the phone nor the Internet in their room. Their reasons why it was so high? A woman left the hotel with a television. The hotel just stereotyped me as someone likely to steal even when I was travelling for business purposes.
When you ask white women what they have to pay for a night in a hotel, I bet you will dare not hear any stories from them about these exorbitant and hidden incidental fees — if you don’t pay them, you can’t stay there. As a student, these hidden (a.k.a., racist and discriminatory) fees caused me a lot of anxiety: would I be able to find a place to stay? I once spent the night in a Tim Horton’s, up all night in downtown Toronto, because I couldn’t find a place to stay in time and at a rate I could afford; it was easier to go with no sleep and a range of other things that they tell you should do before an interview (eat a full breakfast, wash your face/shower, etc). This is a reminder for all those professional associations and universities who dish out interview tips that have not changed since the 1980s.
Are your interview preparation skills geared toward only certain type of candidate?
I frequently joke about how I don’t interview well, but what I mean to say is that interviewing creates barriers that are often ignored or dismissed as “part of the process.” Is your process racist? Sexist? Misogynistic? If you haven’t thought about the barriers your recruitment process creates, probably yes to all those questions.
Today, the recruitment processes are dehumanized and even more so, when everything is virtual. It’s high time to use this time to think about who is being left out and what the journey of a candidate looks like, and not just how on-brand your job postings can be. Oh, and we should all strive to be less racist, misogynistic and sexist by not asking future lawyers and lawyers about when they want to have kids, by not calling criminal law clients “low intellect” or by not asking candidates about their criminal record during the interview.