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Student Lawyer

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Diversifying Hiring Practices May Increase Diversity in Firms

Leslie Rene Snider


  • Resolution 523 urges legal employers to consider more than an applicant’s law school grade point average and class rank.
  • The resolution provides six holistic hiring focuses firms may rely on to consider a broader range of talent.
  • There is a trend in law firms already beginning to innovate their hiring practices and implementing programs to attract more diverse talent.
Diversifying Hiring Practices May Increase Diversity in Firms

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Out of all the law schools, all the law students, and all the practicing attorneys in the United States, there is one experience each has in common—the pressure of undergoing on-campus interviews (OCI) and interviewing for jobs after law school.

It is widely known that one of the reasons these experiences are synonymous with intense pressure and heightened competition is that hiring practices for many law firms have been heavily focused on academics. For years, firms have, and many still do, directly correlate potential success as an employee with the applicant’s academic achievements while in law school. 

While this traditional hiring practice may hold some truth, should grades truly be the most weighted factor to indicate how well an applicant may succeed in a firm?

ABA Law Student Division Resolution 523

The ABA Law Student Division (LSD) tackled this very question in its resolution introduced and ultimately passed by the ABA House of Delegates at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting. Resolution 523 urges legal employers to holistically evaluate law students during OCI by considering more than an applicant’s law school grade point average (GPA) and class rank.

According to the resolution, an undue focus on an applicant’s GPA and class rank can exclude consideration of other skills and experiences candidates may bring to a firm, including leadership ability, interpersonal and communication skills, resilience, problem-solving ability, and a demonstrated commitment to the community.

Additionally, the resolution opines that “a narrow focus on academic achievement can unintentionally disadvantage candidates who may have faced challenges or hardships during their educational journey.”

According to 2023 LSD Chair Lannette Richardson, Resolution 523 “originated from a recognition within our organization that traditional hiring practices, often heavily reliant on grades, may not adequately capture the diverse talents and perspectives that aspiring lawyers bring to the table.”

Richardson said that “the LSD worked tirelessly to research and gather data supporting the need for holistic approaches to hiring, engaging with stakeholders across various sectors to build momentum behind the resolution.”

She added that the passage of Resolution 523 “marks a significant step forward in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the legal profession. By encouraging firms and organizations to adopt holistic approaches to hiring, the resolution opens doors for individuals who may excel in areas beyond academic performance alone. This shift not only fosters a more inclusive and equitable hiring environment but also enhances the overall quality and diversity of legal teams.”

Implementing Holistic Hiring Practices

Resolution 523 presents a list of six holistic hiring focuses firms may rely on to consider a broader range of talent, including:

  • Legal writing and research skills
  • Pro bono work and community service
  • Participation in extracurricular activities, such as moot court or law review
  • Practical experience through internships, externships, or clinics
  • Personal qualities, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and resilience
  • The candidate's background and unique experiences, which can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive work environment

According to the resolution, assessing candidates through a broader lens can identify potential new hires with the necessary qualities for success in the legal profession.

Furthermore, by expanding a firm’s hiring focus, firms are growing the pool of candidates they can choose to interview, thus leading to a more diverse workplace.

The resolution states that there are numerous benefits attached to diversifying the workplace, including:

  • Improved decision-making—Diverse teams bring a wider range of perspectives and ideas, leading to better problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Enhanced innovation—A diverse workforce encourages innovative thinking and the generation of novel solutions.
  • Greater client satisfaction—A more diverse legal team can better relate to and serve the needs of an increasingly diverse client base.
  • Increased employee retention and satisfaction—A diverse and inclusive work environment fosters a sense of belonging and engagement among employees, reducing turnover rates and increasing job satisfaction.

Given the ABA’s passage of Resolution 523, the hope is that a candidate’s level of academic achievement in law school may not be the factor most weighted to indicate how well they will succeed in a firm as a new hire. But how long will it take for these changes to come?

A Realistic Look at Current Hiring Practices

According to Senior Associate Director of Career and Professional Development at the University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law Bryant Park, JD, there is a positive trend in law firms already beginning to innovate their hiring practices to implement more programs to attract more diverse talent.

Park says some firms have already begun making subtle changes that have produced larger success. Those include asking candidates to complete third-party assessments such as personality tests and emotional intelligence assessments or firms changing their hiring criteria from “requiring” a certain GPA and class rank to “preferring” it.

Park said that in his experience, “having the grades is not a guarantee to getting a job; the candidate’s resume still needs to resonate as well.”

According to Park, “More firms are now hosting in-person networking events to assess a wider range of candidates on a face-to-face level aside from what they see on paper and are still offering interviews to candidates who had resonating resumes although their GPA did not meet the hiring threshold.”

Another positive trend, said Park, is that an increasing number of firms are implementing diversity programs, fellowships, and scholarships to attract more diverse talent. It shows that the need and benefits of a more diverse workplace have not gone unnoticed by firms.

Park adds that firms are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of setting up an environment for diverse candidates to succeed and thrive. According to Park, “retention of diverse talent, which relies heavily on not just getting law students and associates hired but also mentorship, requires an environment and office culture that fosters growth and advancement.”

Hope Is on the Horizon

In light of the ABA’s passage of Resolution 523 and the positive changes in hiring trends already in motion, there is hope that firms may continue to innovate and revolutionize their hiring practices as they recruit more diverse talent.

Although grades are still highly important, the traditional practice of achieving a certain GPA or class rank as the major prerequisite to ensuring hiring at a firm seems to be decreasing (just a bit). As more holistic hiring programs and initiatives are implemented, the hope is that there will be an increase in diversity in the firm’s pool of candidates for potential new hires.