It is well known that the legal industry—law firms in particular—lag(s) behind in diversity, despite the substantial effort to increase it. Implementing initiatives to educate their staff, crafting diversity and inclusion statements for their websites, and implementing programs encouraging a more inclusive workplace is wonderful progress, but the statistics don’t lie. Despite the efforts to increase diversity, the legal industry still has a tough road ahead.
Studies have proven that diverse groups make better decisions and generate more revenue than more homogenous workplaces. It’s an investment that will pay dividends for years to come and is the right thing to do. Interviewer biases, however, can get in the way of hiring qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds.
Furthermore, most people likely don’t understand what interviewer bias can look like or even if multiple kinds exist. You probably know that it involves making unwarranted assumptions about someone’s performance solely based on their demographics. And while this is one kind of interviewer bias—known as stereotyping—there are other kinds of interviewer bias that you might hold that are less likely to be acknowledged. Acknowledging the bias, i.e., realizing it’s there, helps prevent or remedy it, so that it doesn’t unfairly affect your assessment of a candidate.
Everyone, even people with good intentions, can be subject to unconscious biases affecting their decision-making. Giving these biases a name and articulating them helps us see them when they arise in us. Implicit biases may impact which resumes attract your attention, whom you decide to call for an interview, and how you rate an interviewee. Thus, interviewer bias must be considered when hiring associate attorneys and partners to attract diverse talent. So, we’ll review a few interviewer biases to demonstrate how easily and subconsciously we can hold them.
The halo/horn effect can benefit one candidate and hurt another; in the end, it creates an undue positive or negative assessment of a candidate. Suppose the candidate answers one question less than satisfactorily. In that case, an employer might see the rest of their answers as being also less than satisfactory, even if they’re solid answers in actuality. If the candidate is highly competent in one area or looks very well put together, the employer might assess the rest of the interview with rose-colored glasses.
Admittedly, a candidate’s failure to answer a particular question well, or the lack of effort in their appearance, will all carry some weight in the employer’s eyes. However, the employer, insomuch they want not to overlook other important factors and competencies of their prospective employee, should seek to assess the person as a whole. Allowing one aspect of an individual, or one part of an encounter with an individual, to overshadow everything else about them frequently results in an incomplete assessment of them and their abilities.
You know when you’ve interviewed several candidates, but none are the right fit? One doesn’t seem that interested and keeps failing to reply to your correspondence; another demonstrates that they barely have any actual experience in the field of law in which they claim they are very experienced. Then comes along someone who meets the bare minimum—but hey, at least they meet it! And as a result of your fatigue with all the others who weren’t a right fit, you rate this candidate as being super great. Imagine the opposite situation too, where after reviewing two candidates who went to a T14 law school and were at the top of their class, comes along someone who wasn’t necessarily at the top of their class—but still had honors and a demonstrated ability to succeed in the office. You’ll likely see this latter candidate in a less favorable light simply because of the comparison to the former two.
With this phenomenon, known as the contrast effect, luck plays a large role in how each candidate is assessed. The order in which a person’s resume is reviewed or the interview is held affects their rating by the interviewer. The candidate might be rather weak, but simply because they came after an even weaker candidate, they’re deemed to be quite competent. This can be detrimental to the employer down the road, as they might hire someone who is not a good fit. Similarly, the contrast effect could be harmful to someone who is a strong candidate but who happens to be interviewed right after someone stronger than them. Admittedly, while the goal for the employer is to choose the best candidate, making comparison inevitable, a candidate shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of the candidate before them. A candidate, even if not as strong as another candidate, might still be an objectively strong candidate worth considering for another position or in the near future.
People like what’s familiar; it provides them comfort and doesn’t overstimulate their nervous systems. And while some people see themselves in a hypercritical way, generally speaking, people rate themselves to be better than they are. That’s why the similar-to-me error can occur. As a result, if a candidate has similar demographics or attitudes to the interviewer, the interviewer will likely view the candidate more positively. And while it’s essential to ensure that the candidate is a right fit for the firm’s culture, it’s unfair that a candidate’s abilities be dismissed simply because they’re not as outgoing as the interviewer, or on the contrary, are more open and extroverted.
Ways to Prevent Bias
Knowing the kinds of biases that exist should help you remain cognizant of them. There are concrete measures interviewers can take to help minimize the chance that any undue assessments are made of candidates. For example, some law firms have embraced “blind recruiting.” A resume is reviewed fairly using artificial intelligence software to remove the candidate’s name, law school, and other potentially identifiable information. While the results of using AI methods are mixed, using technology in this way for this purpose can be a step in the right direction.
For open positions, reviewing candidates whom you might have passed over in the past can be beneficial. Were there any candidates who were not considered because there was one rather insignificant aspect of their interview that you allowed to overshadow the rest? Or because the candidate before them was perfect, or because you didn’t see yourselves in them that much?
Attaining diversity in the legal industry is a daily battle but an increasingly important one. Biases are powerful and can be dangerous, particularly when decisions are made using gut feelings. With a better understanding of what interviewer biases can look like, and therefore an increased likelihood that more effort will be placed in recognizing them and preventing their unfair impact, the legal industry can move the needle towards a more diverse and fair workplace.
If you’re looking to build a richer, more diverse team, MB Attorney Search will help you find the legal talent you need. They offer over 25 years’ experience helping law firms and companies hire associate attorneys throughout the Midwest and recruiting the top talent in the field. Visit their website to learn more about their recruitment services or call (888) 563-5984 to get started.