Contextual Recruitment Positive Discrimination or Social Mobility Champion

Contextual Recruitment Positive Discrimination or Social Mobility Champion

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“If you get three Bs from Eton, you’re probably not as impressive as somebody who gets three Bs from the school in a part of the country where the school [wasn’t] doing well.” This comment was made in a speech by former education secretary, Justine Greening, at a summit on social mobility in New York last month. 

Greening was using her speech to champion “contextual recruitment”, a recruitment tool which takes into account the context in which someone’s academic results are achieved thereby measuring an applicant’s potential in the context of their background.

To its credit, the legal industry has been one of the principle supporters of contextual recruitment with 13 of the top 15 law firms by revenue and 42 firms in total using a contextual recruitment system (CRS) created by Rare, a recruitment business founded by Raph Mokades, to connect “exceptional people from diverse backgrounds with great jobs in top organisations”.

As reported in Legal IT Insider earlier this year, the CRS was based on a two-year research project undertaken by Rare and sponsored by international law firm Clifford Chance. It was “inspired by big data processes, and the selection techniques used by the UK’s leading universities, which make differential offers to students based on ‘contextual data’”.

Clifford Chance has always been a pioneer in this space having been the first law firm in the UK to use ‘blind’ CVs for graduate recruitment back in 2013. As reported in The Independent at the time, “In its first year of operation, the scheme [saw the firm’s] annual intake of 100 graduate trainees come from 41 different education institutions – a rise of nearly 30 per cent on the number represented in the previous year under the old recruitment system”.

In addition “the firm … found the scheme … attracted a third more “first generation” university students than the traditional route to recruitment – and three times as many students from universities with which it [did] not have strong traditional links”.

Although many applauded the shift to using ‘blind’ CVs, David Press, CEO of graduate recruitment platform Proceed UK, made an interesting point when talking to The Student Lawyer at the time when he said “Firms are falling down at the final hurdle… the culture within the firms isn’t backing up the message. Graduates who don’t look or sound like the typical individual round the partnership table are literally ‘bouncing off’ the firm’s culture”.

Fast forward 4 years and I suspect David Press’s point remains valid, but to see so many law firms adopting Rare’s contextual recruitment system (CRS) can only be seen as a major positive for social mobility and diversity.  

Of course, there will be dissenters who might challenge what they see as positive discrimination, a debate I won’t enter here other than to refer you to the words of Christopher Tutton, partner at Constantine Law, in this article in Recruiter.

Whatever one thinks of Justine Greening’s comments, I believe that it has to be right that it falls on all major employers to do all they can to champion social mobility and diversity. 

Back in 2014, according to the Independent article referenced earlier, a senior Clifford Chance employee said of their ‘blind’ CV policy: “We’re looking for the gems and they’re not all in the jeweller’s shop”. In 2018 Greening in her New York speech echoed these words when she said contextual recruitment would help businesses stop “fishing in a talent puddle and start fishing in a talent pool”.

Whether ‘blind’ CVs and contextual recruitment have a place in post-qualified recruitment is still open to debate. Last month we were instructed on a junior commercial/IT solicitor role and asked for ‘blind’ CVs with “no name, gender reference, school or university” but it is the exception rather than the rule. By way of counterpoint one US client continues to specify what A level subjects it expects candidates to have sat and which universities attended. 

I’m currently reading “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” (by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo) with my daughter. The book is described as “100 tales of extraordinary women” and to read the adversity that many of them overcame is genuinely inspiring. If contextual recruitment can help give a leg up to the next Eufronsina Cruz then I’m all for it. 

For informed advice and assistance on your latest recruitment requirements, please contact Iain Millard in our London office on or 0203 0964547.