Here is a very compelling article trumpeting what we recruiters have been shouting from the rooftops for years: when hiring new lawyers it’s not all about school rank and GPA. So much more should be involved – things like character and practical experience – and public interest groups may be on the right track.

The traditional approach, and the one we see most employed by our clients, is to rely on the traditional metrics: perceived prestige of the law school, student grades, and class rank.  After all, at this point in their careers what else can new lawyers be measured on but academic achievement?  How effective is this, though, when, as recently as 2015, just 60% of graduating law school students found employment as lawyers, and 25% didn’t find any employment at all (Am. Bar Ass’n Section of Legal Ed. – Employment Summary Report, 2015)? Or when more than a quarter of new associates leave their firm within 3 years?  Is the traditional model really doing that it’s supposed to do?

I would take the view that new hires fail not because they’re not smart enough (after all, they graduated from an accredited law school and passed a state bar exam), but rather because they lack either the practical skills and/or the qualities of character needed to succeed at the practice of law: things like persistence, integrity, a broad world-view, a tireless work ethic, or the willingness to put your colleagues’ needs above your own.

Surprisingly, when new hires fail – arguably from improper vetting or inadequate post-hire training – firms often double down on their mistake, citing the need for even MORE rigorous academic standards.  I’ve witnessed this firsthand, where certain clients of ours – large, very successful law firms – have declined to interview otherwise outstanding young lawyers because their law school GPA might have been a 3.4 instead of a 3.5.  This is not to suggest that academic achievement doesn’t matter in a field which is itself based on academic excellence; rather, it’s to suggest that a myopic focus on grades and school ranking at the expense of the hidden indicators of character may be what is contributing to the failed hires.

Instead of relying so heavily on the traditional metrics, firms might be better served to look beyond grades and school rank for the subtle, ‘hidden’ things in a young lawyer’s background which evidence character and professional fitness: was the lawyer involved in team sports during his undergraduate years? (and better yet, was he a captain of his team?)  Did she study internationally? Were his internships serious work instead of a means to pad a resume? Did she work as a tutor?  Is he involved in his community? Did she do any ‘real-world’ work in another field before deciding to go to law school?

It’s my belief that a well-rounded consideration of all of these factors – and many more like them – would go a long way towards eliminating the dreaded Failed Hire.  The issue we face as recruiters – and as an industry – is how to convince our clients of the solution.  It seems that public interest groups may be pointing the way.