ABA Urges Holistic Approach to Hiring, Echoing Goals of IAALS’ Foundations for Practice

August 17, 2023

"business people shaking hands during meeting"Earlier this month, the American Bar Association proposed a resolution encouraging law firms to broaden their evaluation criteria when recruiting law students. The resolution suggests considering factors such as legal research and writing skills, community service, extracurricular activities, personal qualities like teamwork and resilience, and unique backgrounds and experiences alongside—not after—more traditional factors such as class rank and grades.

This resolution comes in light of concerns that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings restricting the consideration of race in college admissions could hinder efforts to improve diversity and equity in the legal profession. The ABA emphasizes that reevaluating hiring practices—especially during the on-campus interview process—is essential to fostering a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.

When it comes to hiring, law firms still show a clear preference for prestige factors such as law school attended and class rank. However, this longstanding approach often overlooks the fact that these criteria can be more indicative of socioeconomic status and opportunity rather than a candidate’s actual readiness and capability to excel in real-world practice. 

IAALS has long been aware of this glaring oversight. Nearly a decade ago, we launched Foundations for Practice, a project that aims to empirically define the essential skills and knowledge that new lawyers require for success in their early and ongoing legal careers. From this Foundations data, IAALS published a Hiring Guide that helps legal employers develop hiring processes that encompass the various aspects of candidates’ life experiences, competencies, skills, and abilities. This Foundations-based strategy also cuts out bias and focuses on criteria that objectively lead to better hires and retention, and which can help improve diversity outcomes

Ultimately, the ABA’s resolution suggests that a more holistic approach like what Foundations offers can lead to a more equitable and dynamic legal workforce—and one that is better suited to the modern profession’s demands and the needs of the public. The ABA plans to support its implementation by organizing workshops and webinars to educate law firms, encouraging law schools to promote holistic evaluations, establishing best practices for law student hiring, and recognizing law firms that adopt holistic hiring practices and foster inclusive work environments.

The ABA’s resolution marks a powerful shift in how we think about capability and success in the legal profession. Embracing holistic evaluations in legal hiring not only fosters inclusivity but also aligns our profession with the shifting demands of society where so many legal needs are going unmet, forging a path toward a more diverse, equitable, and effective justice system.

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