Talent, not box ticking, is top of the list when it comes to recruitment for international law firm Allen & Overy
“Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise for us: it’s the key to identifying the very best talent,” says Hannah Salton, Graduate Recruitment Manager for Allen & Overy. It’s a neat summary of the legal giant’s approach, which is based on the recognition that talent comes in many different forms, and that a diverse workforce is essential to reflect the diversity of the company’s global client base.
“There’s a huge emphasis on talent here because what we’re selling is what’s in our people’s heads,” Hannah explains. “So if we’re fishing from a very narrow talent pool, we’re potentially missing out.” Indeed, as roles and responsibilities continue to evolve, the company is now on the look-out for a broader set of skills than might once have been the case. Being a commercial lawyer is all about serving the client’s needs; so being able to build relationships and communicate effectively is just as important as commercial awareness.
“Our employees need to be able to bounce back and deal with adverse situations,” says Hannah. “They also need the capacity to learn from mistakes and to be able to keep going – being a lawyer is hard! We’ve found that people with disabilities often bring with them incredible resilience, which can be just as important as legal and technical knowledge.”
Getting it right from the start
Building a diverse, talented team takes more than just robust recruitment processes: you need to make sure that nothing is stopping the right people entering the pipeline in the first place.
“There may be real or perceived barriers for people with disabilities, such as a lack of understanding about what a career in law involves, concerns about applying to a Magic Circle law firm, or anxiety about how their disability will be perceived,” says Diversity and Inclusion Senior Manager Jo Dooley.
“It’s our job to give them the information and confidence they need to make the right decisions. When we go out to events on campus, for example, we make sure we create a safe environment where students with disabilities can ask us questions and know that we’re going to give them an honest answer. Often it’s a confidence thing – they’re thinking, ‘they won’t want someone like me’ – and that’s why it’s so important to communicate what the role is about and what support is available.”
Support kicks in right at the beginning of the recruitment process.
As soon as a candidate informs Allen & Overy about their disability, the conversation starts about any adjustments they might need. That could include extra time, access requirements, an interpreter or documents in Braille, to give just a taster of the types of support the company has provided in the past.
Key to providing effective support – whether for a new employee or an existing employee who develops a health condition – is flexibility. As Hannah puts it, “there isn’t one way to get it right. You have to approach each situation afresh, asking open questions and being careful not to make assumptions.” Jo believes the company’s approach is working. “We may not shout about it, but what I see on the ground is real support. We have a great team in place who work hard to get it right every time.”
Working with MyPlus Students' Club
Allen & Overy have been working with MyPlus Students' Club for a while, both promoting themselves through our website and attending training sessions. “Helen delivers really good training focused on what we should be doing for students with disabilities,” says Jo. “It also provides us with a forum where we can ask questions and get useful, practical advice.” Hannah too sees real practical benefits in the partnership.
“Sometimes there’s a nervousness to not offend people, and to ensure that we do everything correctly. Helen has given us some fantastic guidance and the feedback I’ve had from my team has been really positive. They gain so much from having that safe environment to ask the questions that everyone has but don’t always know how to ask.”
With a history stretching back 85 years, Allen & Overy is now one of the largest law firms in the world, with an established international network that includes 44 offices in 31 countries. They also have strong links with law firms in a further 100 countries, giving them a truly global reach.
Hannah and Jo share their top tips for anyone thinking of applying for a role at Allen & Overy.
You don’t need a legal background to join us
If you’re invited for an interview, be prepared
Don’t be afraid to tell us about your disability
At Allen & Overy we know that our approach to diversity will be an important consideration for individuals researching the firm or applying for open days, vacation schemes or training contracts. And we already have a number of initiatives and projects underway to widen access to A&O and the legal profession.
"At A&O, we recognise that people are different, in ways that we can see and ways that we can't. We think that is a good thing. As well as creating a rich working environment that makes our work more enjoyable, the business benefits are clear. Being diverse and ensuring that we are inclusive helps us to attract the best people, innovate and understand and relate to our clients."
Wim Dejonghe, Senior Partner.
Our objective is simple: to attract and retain the most talent people, to benefit from the varied talents a diverse workforce brings, and allow our people to achieve their potential and fulfil their ambitious, within a supportive working environment.
Did you know?
Our commitment to diversity can be seen through out Diversity & Inclusion strategy, owned and championed by the Board and People & Performance Board. It will be reviewed annually to ensure that we are focusing on the right things and our Diversity Advisory Committee will provide guidance throughout the year to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.
Work experience programme designed exclusively for first year undergraduate students in the UK.
Intake: April Length: 2 days (return office visit in September)
Gain experience in one of our practice areas, where you will work alongside our lawyers on real deals and cases.
Intake: December, March/April, June/July Length: 1 week
Begin your legal career at A&O.
Length: 2 years
Tips for applying
Recruiters, Hannah and Jo share their top tips for anyone thinking of applying for a role at Allen & Overy.
- Different Experiences We’re looking for people with commercial awareness and good communication skills, and we want team players. Those skills can be developed through all sorts of different experiences.
- Interview Prep Do your research, think about the questions you’re likely to be asked – even arrange to have a couple of mock interviews. If you know what to expect, you’ll feel more confident and you’re more likely to do yourself justice.
- Disability Confidence It’s a part of who you are, not something to hide. We’ll do everything we can to make the adjustments you need.
We believe there’s no such thing as a typical Allen & Overy candidate and we actively seek a diverse trainee intake. We also mean It when we say your university and degree subject doesn’t matter – approximately 50% of our trainees are from non-law backgrounds and we do not have a shortlist of preferred universities; our current trainee intake represents around 40 different universities.
Aside from a commitment to a career in international commercial law and a clear articulation of why you want to work at Allen & Overy, we will look for the following skills and attributes throughout our selection process:
- Commercial awareness of both the law and business
- Planning & organisation
We recognise that people with disabilities require varied levels and types of support; we are therefore committed to understanding your needs on a case by case basis. Contact us for more questions and to find the best adjustments for you.
Internally, we have reviewed human resources and recruitment processes, making adjustments and providing support to candidates and existing staff, with help from a disability expert.
In addition, we provide disability awareness training to staff in a range of departments.
You will be contacted by the Graduate Recruitment Specialist or Trainee Manager to discuss any adjustments you may require ahead of starting your programme/ training contract or training. We will also want to understand from you whether you are comfortable with us disclosing your disability to key stakeholders outside of the Graduate Recruitment and Trainee Management teams, such as the College of Law, your Trainer and Health and Safety (if appropriate); with the aim that we can provide you with the best support possible to achieve your potential.
Dependent on your disability we may also invite you into the office ahead of your start date for a familiarisation visit and discussion with Health & Safety on any adjustments you might need. The Graduate Recruitment Specialist or Trainee Manager will remain in constant contact with the placement student/ trainee throughout their employment to ensure they are fully supported.
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