Chambers Student: Could you give us a brief overview of how Rare Recruitment started out and how it has evolved over the years?
Rare Recruitment: Raph Mokades left his corporate job as a UK and US diversity manager to found Rare in 2005, with just a phone behind a desk, in the corner of someone else’s office. Rare began as a service to find smart university students from diverse backgrounds, give them really good job application advice and help to match them with a suitable employment opportunity. Raph steadily built his clientele in law, banking and financial services, took on staff and partnered with those early clients to conduct groundbreaking research based on the wealth of data Rare had collected on talented students of Black and ethnic minority heritage and those from lower socio-economic households.
By 2015, Rare had collated enough data and experience to build and launch our multi-award-winning software, the Contextual Recruitment System, allowing elite employers to bake social mobility metrics into their graduate recruitment for the first time. We’ve got arguably the largest data set of top British students of Black and ethnic minority heritage, and we pair that depth of knowledge with 15 years of experience in our field.
Rare now helps clients to access exceptional graduates they might otherwise miss, and supports and mentors excellent undergraduates of Black and minority heritage through their applications to the elite organisations.
CS: Can you explain how your Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) works and what kind of factors are vital to put into context when it comes to recruiting diverse candidates and promoting social mobility?
RR: Candidates of Black and ethnic minority heritage are overrepresented within lower socio-economic groups, who are in turn underrepresented at prestigious graduate employers. Any organisation that is serious about building a diverse workforce needs its recruiters to apply a level of rigour to their decision-making which is equal to any other important business decision. Those recruiters are best served by a system which allows them to calibrate disadvantage and to measure outperformance.
The CRS integrates with employers' graduate recruitment systems and delivers two outputs: flags to measure disadvantage (i.e. qualifying for Free School Meals, or a combination of measures indicative of coming from a low income background) and Performance Index, to measure outperformance against students at the same school. It takes raw achievements - for example, AAB at A Level - and puts them in context - for example, AAB from a school where the average is DDE. Without knowing the school context, a graduate recruiter might pass that person over for candidates with straight As and A*s, but viewed via the CRS, the extent to which that candidate had outperformed their peers would make it clear that the employer would be missing out on a potential star by dismissing the application. Candidates flagged by the CRS still go through the same rigorous selection process as other graduate applicants, so it is always clear that successful hires have earned their place without any preferential treatment or lowering of standards.
In short, the CRS is the first piece of integrated software that allows recruiters to identify the most socially and economically disadvantaged candidates, and the candidates who have outperformed their schools by the greatest amounts. It’s used in graduate recruitment by more than 100 organisations and by all top law firms.
CS: You’ve developed various programmes for diverse candidates looking to enter the legal industry. Can you tell us more about them and at which point diverse candidates should start using them/how they apply?
RR: Vantage is an online portal open to any student interested in law from age 16 at school and above. Candidates complete an online profile with their contact details and information about their education and background. The law firms and chambers who support Vantage can then contact students and graduates directly about relevant opportunities. These could be anything from open days, vacation schemes, training contracts, university or diversity events, apprenticeships and paralegal positions.
We support thousands of candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. We provide guidance on applications, interviews, commercial fluency and beyond to all of the Rare candidates interested in law. In addition, eligible students have an opportunity to be part of one of our two development programmes, Articles and Discuss. These include intensive one-to-one development and an opportunity to meet the firms we work with. These programmes are open to students in their first year of study at university (or students in their second year of a four year course).
CS: You also look at the career trajectory of diverse lawyers once they are working in the industry. What do you think is behind the disproportionately high attrition rates among newly qualified BAME lawyers and how do services like Retain and Legal Lateral help to address these issues?
RR: There is data to suggest that the attrition rates continue to be disproportionately high for lawyers from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds at every PQE level, not just at qualification.
Through our Retain and Legal Lateral programmes, we work with both firms and lawyers to address this on multiple levels. Graduate and lateral recruitment is one part of the system, but recruitment without retention is unlikely to lead to diverse partnerships. Our Retain and Include services work with firms to aid in the creation of inclusive cultures by enabling firms to understand their data - for example, what is their ethnicity stay-gap, what are the promotion rates for each ethnic group, what is the adverse impact through the recruitment process - and by helping to plan a strategy for change, such as having a zero tolerance policy on racism, communicating that policy, and training on race for all managers. We also offer direct one-to-one support for associates and trainees through executive coaching.
Legal Lateral specifically aims to address issues around ensuring that once Black and ethnic minority lawyers decide to leave their firms, they have the opportunity to move between firms in the same way their White peers currently do. This means working with firms to ensure they are attractive employers for those lawyers, thinking about how we work with third party providers to ensure good representation in all hiring processes, and supporting lawyers directly to assist them with their move.
CS: How can diverse lawyers sign up and use your services to enhance their careers?
RR: Trainees and lawyers can sign up here. We run events with our partner firms and other organisations, with online group coaching sessions run by accredited coaches and online mentoring programmes. If they are thinking about returning or moving to private practice we can help. We don’t have targets, we don’t earn commissions and we’re not incentivised to move people. We also offer one-to-one career development guidance. One of our aims is to see more Black, Asian and ethnic minority lawyers in partnership and GC roles, and we are continually developing strategies to support lawyers as they progress through their careers.
CS: One of the key barriers to inclusion is unconscious bias. Rare has worked with a variety of neuroscientists, psychologists and sociologists to build its Hemisphere training programme for clients. What can you tell our student readers about unconscious bias and the key points about how it can manifest itself in professional environments/contexts?
RR: Unconscious bias is a neurological reaction to the unfamiliar. It happens when our brains try to fill in the blanks in how we assess an unfamiliar situation, pulling us into assumptions and judgements before we even know we’ve done it. While that’s extremely helpful and potentially lifesaving in “fight or flight” scenarios, it can also lead us to close our minds to new experiences, ideas and people.
When it comes to recruitment, that means everything about a person’s appearance - plus accent, posture, intonation, eye contact and all the other non-verbal cues we give off - has to contend with what a recruiter’s unconscious idea of a “successful” candidate who is a “good cultural fit" looks and sounds like. We know this has a negative impact on the recruitment, management and progression of people from different backgrounds to the majority in a workforce.
We’ve spent five years working with neuroscience, psychology and sociology experts to develop a product, Hemisphere, that can deliver proven results in disrupting unconscious bias in graduate recruitment in the UK. During testing with professionals in law firms and financial institutions, more than 80% of participants found Hemisphere training useful, and 80% had their biases identified and disrupted.
CS: How do you think the legal profession is doing with regards to increasing diversity in its ranks (at various levels) and is it keeping pace with other clients you assist, such as those in the financial services, public and education sectors?
RR: The overwhelming majority of top law firms have taken broadening access to their graduate intake seriously for at least the last decade, and they use the CRS to ensure high potential graduates from lower socio-economic groups don’t slip through the net.
The elite legal sector as a whole has also been relatively consistent on collating and examining their own graduate data, and our clients have certainly seen the fruits of the various methods and processes that serve to increase diversity. In 2017-8, 17% of applicants to top UK law firms were eligible for Free School Meals (which means they had a household income below £16,500); at top accounting firms, the figure was 12%. Increased focus and awareness on gender equity and social mobility has certainly helped to encourage movement across all sectors, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly, of course, at more senior levels.
CS: How does law fare as an attractive profession for the candidates you help or those who approach you? Are there common reasons for wanting to join it/reservations about joining it?
RR: The law is a very attractive profession for the students that we work with, as our candidates are often keen on traditional and secure professional roles. Our candidates are motivated by the idea of combining their interest in business with their interest in the law. They are excited by the prospect of working on large deals or matters that make headlines, whilst also making a meaningful impact on the economy. Our candidates are sometimes concerned about being able to secure the relevant work experience to be able to gain an insight into the industry, which is what we focus on helping them with.
CS: How do you think your diverse graduate recruitment platform will evolve in the years ahead? Are you currently looking at new programmes or new technology that will enhance the work you’re currently doing and help your clients to hire and retain an ever-more diverse workforce? Will you tailor your programmes to help diverse lawyers at higher levels in their careers (i.e senior associates looking to make the partnership)?
RR: It’s evolved a lot in the past year already - obviously the global pandemic has forced a great deal of change upon all businesses, and it’s not the easiest time for many in recruitment. We’re fortunate that we’ve been in a position to pivot our in-person programmes to digital format with great success, and our software products continue to help recruiters find the talent they need.
The Vantage platform is still new, with its unique way of connecting law firms and chambers with students from a wide range of backgrounds, schools and universities. We expect it to keep growing and we look forward to hearing more and more success stories! We also believe that demand for our Retain service will continue to grow as more of the candidates we placed as graduates progress with their careers.
We are always thinking about new ways to help our clients, candidates and diverse lawyers from BAME and lower socio-economic groups at higher levels. Hemisphere launched in September, and the unconscious bias training it delivers is applicable to any employee who recruits, manages or simply works alongside people from backgrounds different to their own, from graduates right to the C-suite and senior partners.We also recently launched the Race Fairness Commitment, an effective model for achieving ethnic diversity and an anti-racist culture in any workforce. It commits participating organisations to clear anti-racist policies, specific data monitoring and impactful changes in process as part of a suite of activity. We believe that it will make a real difference, and that in ten years’ time, those reaching partnership in the top law firms should be as ethnically diverse as the graduates entering those firms today.
CS: What are the most important findings from your research that you’d like to flag in order to promote education and knowledge of issues that will help to boost diversity and inclusion in the legal industry?
RR: Firstly, it is imperative to collect, analyse and monitor data. It is impossible to measure progress on diversity and inclusion if you don’t have the data to help you identify your issues or improvements.
Secondly, it is essential to disaggregate data. Umbrella terms such as BAME are useful in some contexts, but they can mask inequalities between specific ethnic minority groups if the data is not sufficiently interrogated. For example, Black African, Black Caribbean, Asian Bangladeshi and Asian Pakistani candidates tend to be most under-represented across industries, but this can be missed if analysis looks only at BAME as a category.
Finally, when measuring socioeconomic background, it is important to use a basket of measures to capture a range of possible disadvantages. Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System monitors for academic, economic and personal disadvantage because we understand that a student’s life chances and achievements can be affected in a number of ways, and therefore depending on just one metric can result in a narrow understanding of the context in which a person has secured their academic and work- related achievements.
CS: What advice would you give to diverse students (at any stage in their education, from secondary school to sixth form to uni) on their potential to succeed in the legal profession and what they can be thinking about/doing in order to start their law career journey in the best possible way?
RR: At the beginning of their journey, we strongly recommend that students immerse themselves in the industry to develop their commercial awareness. This doesn’t have to mean reading the Financial Times, which students can sometimes find a bit hard to get started on! Online tools such as Finimize do a great job of introducing students to commercial awareness, and it is possible to curate your social media feeds so that they are constantly drip feeding you useful information about the business world. Students interested in commercial law should cultivate an interest in the world around them, and when reading about business or political news, make sure they ask themselves how this might be relevant to their future clients.