Recruitment trends in law firms

Jan 12, 2017 | Attraction & marketing

ISE employer members operate in over 15 different sectors; here ISE Research Analyst Samuel Gordon considers recruitment data from law firms, highlighting some of the characteristics that set them apart.

Student recruitment is a growing and dynamic industry. In this year’s ISE Annual Survey, we highlighted a wide range of fascinating trends including apprenticeship growth outpacing graduate job growth and employer engagement with universities becoming more targeted as well as faster and smarter selection processes. Beneath the high-level trends, each sector also has its own set of interesting dynamics. Here we delve into the legal sector.

Market overview

ISE member law firms typically pay the highest median starting salaries (£39,000 compared to £28,000 overall), but also have a relatively low number of applications per vacancy (49 compared to 75 overall). More than half (55%) of law firms accept applications from outside the European Economic Area, compared with only 28% of firms in other sectors.

Law firms also tend to engage earlier with students than employers in other sectors. They typically recruit their graduate trainees two years in advance, rather than starting a recruitment campaign 9-12 months before junior hires join. Also, 77% offer internships of 2-4 weeks, and 70% offer insight days for first-year students. A high share of their graduate intakes is former interns (64%, compared to 34% for all employers). The nature of early engagement is a key feature of the legal sector that sets them apart.


Collectively, ISE recruiters labelled improving diversity as their number one challenge for 2018. From research we carried out in 2016, we know that gender diversity, ethnic diversity and social mobility are the top three diversity priorities, respectively. However, we also know that law firms have different diversity priorities to other sectors. Social mobility is their number one focus.

Law firms are generally more active on diversity than other employers too. The majority (93%) of law firms took specific actions to improve diversity in 2017, compared to 71% of non-legal firms. They also prioritise different actions. A third of law firms used contextualised recruitment, while just 3% of non-legal employers adopted this approach, 34% ran outreach events for first or second year students, compared to 22% of other employers. What’s more, 34% used name-blind or university-blind recruitment, contrasted with 15% of non-legal firms.

There is an interesting nuance to these efforts though. Law firms may still have more to do on gender diversity. Even though women typically make up 60% of legal graduate hires, they also make up 61% of legal students. The diversity of students and graduate hires still does not match. A focus on social mobility should not detract from necessary efforts to hire more women.

Attraction & selection

 In general, law firms appear to be more targeted in the way they advertise and market their vacancies. They typically hire from 14 universities, compared with 20 on average across all employers. The majority (90%) attend industry-specific careers fairs, compared to 75% of other firms, and 70% run bespoke events for students, compared to 54% of other firms. The average cost per graduate hire for law firms is £5,992, far above the overall average of £3,578.

Legal employers also have different approaches to their selection. They are more likely to use strengths-based assessment in their selection process, with 54% adopting this approach compared to 39% of firms in other sectors. Only 17% make use of phone interviews, compared to 60% of non-legal employers. In assessment centres, 61% of law firms ask candidates to do case studies, compared to 46% of other organisations. Only 29% use a group roleplay while 48% of non-legal firms run this activity.

Was this article helpful?


Share This