Mills & Reeve has tweaked its training contract and summer vac scheme interview process by trialing mini-hackathons in a bid to find “lawyers for the future.”

In the early stages of the recruitment process in February, the firm held group exercises and design thinking workshops to test the problem-solving skills of candidates beyond legal knowledge. As part of the mini-hackathons, candidates were asked to develop innovative solutions for client problems.

Breaking from tradition, the firm has also expanded its assessor group to ensure that a wider set of skills is evaluated. It has included project managers, members of the innovation team and “innovation champions”, a 40-strong group that is regularly involved in such projects. To wipe out unconscious bias during the assessment, the group in charge of the process underwent appropriate training, with candidates’ information such as academic records being anonymised. In addition, for five years the firm has been using recruitment software RARE, which embeds social mobility measurement criteria in the selection of trainees.

“We got together and started thinking about how to spread a culture of innovation more broadly and we decided to target graduates and trainees,” Victoria Sears, innovation engagement advisor at the firm, told The Lawyer. 

“We asked them to come up with ideas that were not just traditional legal solutions. We wanted them to push boundaries,” she added.

Sears ran the process alongside graduate recruitment manager Rachel Chapman, recruitment manager Sarah Freeman, client innovation project specialist Jodie Hosmer and client innovation advisor Emma Jackson.

The idea of mini-hackathons came as, in previous years, Chapman and Freeman have been looking at concocting ways to breathe new life into the recruitment process. At the beginning of the process, the team sat down with its current cohort of trainees to elaborate the structure of the group exercises and set out goals such as capturing a wider range of competencies and demonstrations of creative thinking.

In the traditional group exercises, working groups of around nine people were normally presented with a legal scenario they had to tackle; it frequently involved organising fictional client events. Once presented with the scenario, the teams were not given further guidance by the facilitators during the assessment day.

With the mini-hackathon format, during the workshops at the assessment centres candidates were instead helped by facilitators in the development of alternative solutions that could involve, for example, use of technology. Sessions were more interactive, aided all the way through by constant feedback on the projects. Design thinking tools, post-it boards and flip charts were brought in for brainstorming sessions.

About 12 sessions have been held over three days. The successful candidates are currently being interviewed.

The recruitment managers involved would not disclose details on the actual problems and solutions, since the same format could be repeated again with future trainee intakes.

The experiment was pursued as Mills & Reeve has recently stepped up its innovation projects. For instance, it has recently come up with a new programme aimed at allowing graduates to take on innovation projects for the firm and its clients. The initiative, dubbed the ‘project and innovation trainee programme’, is the latest in a line of changes first begun in 2015 by managing partner Claire Clarke to increase profitability and transform the services and training of its lawyers. As part of the programme, the innovation trainees will have the opportunity to take on seat rotations in the firm’s business services team across multiple practice divisions. They will not qualify as solicitors.