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How Big Data May Change Law Firm Hiring Practices

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 22, 2015 2:59 PM

Everybody knows that lawyers are real sticklers for tradition. We like musty law books. We like burnt-umber colored desks. We like Latin. And we also like hiring only 90th percentile students from the T14.

But that's changing, at least according to the opinion of Phil Weiser writing for the ABA Journal. With the help of big data insights about new hires, more holistic means are being employed by law firms when selecting their lucky associates. Now, you might have someone who went to the University of the Middle of Nowhere working alongside a Harvard Law grad. Imagine that.

Traditions Die Hard

The legacy model, as Weiser calls it, revolves around a kind of ritual that involves screening applicants purely on their grades, ranking, and their schools. Such an objective standard of admissibility has the tendency to screen out applicants who many of the partners could easily sit down and have lunch with.

Big Data Reveals "Worthless Criteria" in Hiring

Apparently, this tendency to hire based strictly on this legacy-and-rank approach has long been abandoned by other industries. Google's big data insights recently revealed to The New York Times that GPA is a "worthless criteria for hiring." That's a pretty strong statement that one would not generally expect from a tech giant like Google. But the fact that Laszlo Block said it is quite revealing of the company's hiring practices.

However, Weiss did also mention that a major law firm partner personally told him that a law firm might not hire a partner simply because that partner did not end up in the top ten percent of his class. His previous track record meant nothing. Such heel-digging surely is the mark of traditional and somewhat obsolete thinking.

Pioneering the New Normal

What might work for a tech company like Google may not translate directly to law firms, but there's at least the faint scent of change in the wind. The national IP law firm Kilpatrick Townsend, for example, has been experimenting with hiring practices that eschew the usual across the table format that we've all trained for and dread. Instead, applicants engage the partners in an unstructured meal and also conduct a group project and writing assignment. This approach allows the hiring lawyers to see which applicant they feel best about.

And isn't that really what this business is all about? Personal relationships?

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