Our recruiting and retention practices are designed to help us hire and retain a diverse group of lawyers. We overhauled our recruiting process a few years ago because we see law student recruits as more than just resumes.
We added two new parts to our interview process. The first is an interview with a diverse panel of Schiff Hardin partners. Schiff Hardin partners ask carefully structured, pre-planned behavioral questions to gather extensive information about students’ professional, academic, extracurricular, and other individual life experiences. The format is designed to eliminate bias, and panel members have been professionally trained to interview effectively. The atmosphere is welcoming and lets students highlight their unique backgrounds, experiences, and talents.
The second new part is a brief writing exercise. We hand candidates a case and ask them to answer a question posed by someone who is affected by it. This part of our interview helps us see who is ready and eager to interact with real clients early in their career. We seek organized thoughts, clear writing, and an appropriate tone. We review the writing exercises without knowing any information about the candidate, which ensures that our process is gender- and diversity-neutral.
We are finding many diverse law students who are excited about the Firm – and we are actively recruiting them.
Over the past few years, we have also redoubled our efforts to increase the pool of diverse candidates that we interview. We interview at the Cook County Minority Job Fair, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Bay Area Diversity Job Fair, Lavender Law and on campus at over twenty law schools nationwide, including Howard University, a predominantly minority law school in Washington, D.C. Several of our lawyers also participated in formal and informal mentoring programs, including the University of Chicago’s Women’s Mentoring Program, Northwestern University’s OUTlaw organization, and the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago.
Our recent recruiting results bear out our efforts. The 2015 summer associate class has the highest percentage of women summer associates in firm history. And our 2014 summer program had the highest percentage of racially diverse summer associates ever.
Our inclusive environment also helps us retain talent.
Seven years ago, Schiff Hardin appointed Lisa Brown, a litigation partner, to be the Firm’s first Professional Development Partner. Lisa works with all of our associates to ensure that they receive the professional opportunities and training they need. Her work with associates – both diverse and non-diverse – helps them navigate the law firm environment and effectively manage their work. The Firm also hired Julie Schrager as its legal writing coach. Julie works closely with our summer associates and associates to improve their writing skills. She holds small- and large-group workshops but spends most of her time working one-on-one with individual lawyers.
While we plan on the success of every associate and lateral we hire, we know that attorneys have different needs and goals at different stages of their careers and that no two career paths are the same. For these reasons, we mentor diverse and non-diverse attorneys and monitor our progress toward creating long, successful, and rewarding careers for each of them.
We also have a compensation and advancement structure that is adapted to associates’ individual needs. There are three tiers of associates. Each practice group has specifically identified and communicated the core competencies that are required for advancement. And to further ensure that our associates gain the experiences and skills they need to advance, we hold annual “practice mastery” conferences for each firm associate.
Our hiring approach has one additional unique feature: we allow new associates to spend up to a year working in their choice of practice areas before selecting a primary area. Further, once an associate has chosen a primary practice area, he or she may still work in others. These policies help us both recruit and retain and advance minority and women attorneys.