EP43: Clark Wilson LLP - Hiring Legal Talent in the Age of Technology (With Robert St-Jacques)

Hiring Legal Talent in the Age of Technology

All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels and YouTube and Spotify and stay tuned for weekly episodes. I'm your host, Lydia, and with us today is Robert St-Jacques, Director of Legal Talent at Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver, Canada.

Welcome to the show, Robert.

Robert: Thank you for bringing me on board.

From Labor Attorney to Head of Legal Talent

Lydia: So, tell us a little bit about your start as a lawyer, Robert. And how you moved into the talent space.

Robert: I began my career as a Labor and Employment Attorney for five years before being hired by one of my clients, LensCrafters, a global retailer and manufacturer of eyeglasses. I then worked for other Fortune 150 companies and moved to Dubai where I held senior HR leadership roles and served as in-house counsel. Afterward, I moved into technology and was based in KL for a while before finally settling in Vancouver.

Here, I have been working predominantly with tech companies in human resource leadership and as general counsel. My last role was head of people and legal for a gaming company. Now, my career has come full circle as I am back in a law firm as head of legal talent, but not as a lawyer.

Legal Talent Hiring: Hybrid Work and Soft Skills

Lydia: Let's go to the hiring of legal talent. Have you noticed any significant shifts around the hiring of legal talent over the last couple of years or maybe the last five years?

Robert: There have been a few areas of change in the hiring of legal talent. One of them is the accelerated demand for hybrid work and work-life balance.

Young lawyers are also showing more interest in technology and want their firms to be technology-enabled. However, law firms have been slower than typical businesses in investing in technology and changing their processes.

This has created a mismatch of expectations between young attorneys and their firms, which are not as technologically advanced as they are used to in their personal lives. On the positive side, there has been a dramatic acceleration in the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. This is especially important considering that for the past 10-15 years, a large minority of law school graduates have been BIPOC individuals. As a result, the demographics within firms and their talent force are changing.

Lydia: In terms of hiring talent, for a law firm such as yours, what are some key skills or qualities, that you look out for when you hire legal talent? I mean, this goes beyond just technical legal knowledge.

Robert: A few years ago, a book called ‘The T-Shaped Lawyer’ was published. The concept of being T-shaped in learning and development refers to the depth of knowledge and skills in one’s function (the top of the T) and the soft skills (the vertical line of the T.) Soft skills include delegation, coaching, giving feedback, planning, and other skills that are not necessarily related to one’s function.

What we’re looking for is either some of that T-shape to be formed or for individuals to have some of the foundational characteristics. One such characteristic is a client service mindset.

From a client’s point of view, when they call their lawyer, it could either be because they have a big deal going on or because they are having the worst day of their lives. Being able to approach both situations with calm professionalism and seeing it as a privilege to help another human being is what we mean by a client service mindset.

Building out on the T-shape, we’re also looking for project management skills, influencing skills, relationship management, emotional intelligence (EQ), business knowledge, social science or psychology background, data and analytics skills, and technology enablement. It’s not just about getting good grades in law school anymore. The foundational piece is still the client service mindset and seeing the ability to serve another human being as a privilege.

Hybrid Work: Tax Advantages and Compliance

Lydia: You talked about some trends earlier, such as hybrid work and more work-life balance that is more in demand. How do you see these trends impacting the day-to-day operations of the business?

Robert: When looking at trends such as hybrid work, there are many knock-on effects to consider. Hybrid work is not just about working from home a certain number of days per week. For example, if you have a remote culture or require people to work from home, there are tax advantages in Canada. Employment contracts need to be changed to include this as a line item so that employees can take advantage of certain deductions.

There are also implications for policies, promotions, training, and compliance with health and safety requirements. For example, how do you provide training on safe handling of chemicals when employees are working from home? There are also regulations regarding ergonomics. How do you ensure compliance without going to people’s homes and measuring their screens and chairs?

Hybrid work alone has many knock-on effects that need to be considered. It’s important to look at benefits and other areas as well.

Lydia: So, these changes happen across different requirements in an employment contract. How do you go about making them happen?

Robert: Correct. So, you start with deciding on what hybrid means to you. I’ve been at all extremes, right? So you have the 100% remote aspect of it. Then you need to go top to bottom in terms of the employee lifecycle.

How does this change our employer branding? This is even before we get to recruitment, marketing, or job ads. How do we portray ourselves? What do we need to change there?

Our recruitment process, what do we need to change? More video-based on those levels, right down to onboarding? How do we onboard people without ever seeing them? IT? When do we have to tell them that somebody’s joining? Because they have to ship a computer overseas or across the country. You need to give people more lead time.

So yeah, you don’t have to find an office or a desk anymore. But IT has to figure out how to get a computer to somebody in Slovakia. And then you go through your onboarding. How do you convey information through Zoom calls and onboarding? Then how do you do the integration?

After the onboarding, we move into integrating you. What kind of activities do we do? Before, it was like giving a bunch of people money and going out to a restaurant for a meal together. That’s not an option anymore. Your team is now in 17 countries.

With different time zones and so on, we can’t just have a meal together. So, we’re having three meals together - breakfast, lunch, and dinner at various times. And so we sent people Uber cards or whatever it is in their country.

Same thing with compensation. How do we explain it? How do we legally do it? Usually, you outsource with a company and they handle the contracting for you in those countries. And then there’s a whole list of compliance requirements on that side.

And then your performance management - how do you communicate expectations and continue to build your culture? So it just continues all the way down. If you think from beginning to end, an employee lifecycle has almost two exits. How does that happen?

If somebody wants to leave in Slovakia, again, how do you get the computer back? How do you set all those pieces up? So, it really requires a top-to-bottom reengineering of not only your policies but also your processes and sometimes your technology. And if it’s a little bit too complicated, then in the case of international comp, it’s probably easier to outsource.

Lydia: In terms of all these changes and multifaceted effects based on just one trend alone, what should employers be considering in terms of a long-term strategic plan?

Robert: I would say go back to basics and think about it. If you’re an athlete and have an inkling that you’d like to try different sports, one top fundamental and foundational thing you could do is get in great shape. Because then it doesn’t matter if you go swimming, biking or running. If you’re physically fit and can do certain activities for long periods of time, you have a better chance of adapting and enjoying the new sport.

That’s what I advise for businesses: use this opportunity to make these changes because they’re happening whether you like it or not. But here’s the important piece: learn from this and create and adopt a mindset of agility and change management. Because you’ve got other things coming down the pike.

For example, people are now struggling with hybrid work and how they’re going to do it. The conversations are already happening about four-day workweeks. Use this experience to document your process, get folks in your organization used to that change, and try to speed up the pace of change so that you can continue to be agile.

When you’re faced with another challenge like the four-day workweek, you can say, “Hey, we just handled hybrid work. We had lots of lessons learned. We created this change management process with communication and stakeholder engagement. Now we’re ready to move this through instead of stumbling along.” Now you can confidently run through it because you have foundational knowledge and skills in agility, an agile mindset, and change management.

So then you’re able to roll with these changes. For example, ChatGPT is coming in with AI. How would you adapt to that? If you use current activities like hybrid work as your training wheels or training event and document your processes in terms of change, then you’re more able to meet challenges like ChatGPT or AI.

AI in Legal Work and Gaming, and Protecting Against Recruitment Fraud

Lydia: Have you used ChatGPT or any AI technology?

Robert: In terms of law, you need to be very careful because we cannot upload any client-specific information into an open source. It’s a limited use in terms of law firms and legal work and client-related pieces. They can ask queries on updated laws and things like that as long as no client information goes in. So it is being used there.

Where I saw it used before was when I worked for a gaming company. In terms of the creation of art, AI just follows the process. Our artists used to look at the catalog of stuff that we did, and there were 400,000 assets. They would type in “fire” and maybe 800 fires that were created before would pop up. They would find one, modify it, create a new fire, and put it into the game.

What AI does is instead of having to look through 800 fires, you can say, “I want to create a new fire and I want it to look like our stuff in our game.” It’ll help you create a draft version and then you would make the changes.

With AI, it’s sped up the process. It’s not that jobs are going away and everybody is going to be automated. Quite the opposite: if used carefully, it’s a helper and does a lot of the drudge work.

The folks we had working for us had their skill set elevated. They became more editors rather than just listeners and transcribers.

Lydia: The first draft is taken care of to a certain extent. That’s the real heavy lifting: the ideation or that first draft of brainstorming.

Robert, let me just move into a different issue that’s affecting recruiters and even affecting employer brands. As you said, lots of companies have been experimenting or have moved into things like four-day workweeks, hybrid work, remote work, fully remote work from anywhere, and that sort of work arrangement. But we’re also seeing more and more instances of recruitment fraud in which scammers use the company’s name and contact information falsely. They target candidates without the knowledge of the company or the official recruiter.

So, how can companies and legitimate recruiters protect themselves from any sort of brand damage as a result of these activities?

Robert: First and foremost, make a very clear statement on your own career website. State that you do not charge candidates and that you only accept resumes through a specific process and website. If a candidate is contacted by one of your recruiters, advise them to go back to LinkedIn and verify that the recruiter actually works for your company.

Provide information on what to look for and list your recruiters with their LinkedIn profiles. Make it clear that if one of these specific recruiters is not contacting the candidate, it could be a situation of fraud.

The second piece is to take legal action if necessary. Find out where these scammers are from and follow them. They may take copies of your ads like aggregators and put their own contact information. Depending on where they’re based, you can take legal action. For example, I worked for the government of Abu Dhabi and some of their semi-governmental organizations. That carries a lot of weight and most people stopped when I said, “cease and desist.” The same goes for bigger brands because they have deep pockets and will go after scammers.

Also, provide an email address for candidates to report any suspicious activity. If they’ve been approached by anyone who’s not one of your recruiters, ask them to let you know who it is and provide the information. Follow up with those people with a tersely worded legal letter protecting your brand.

So it’s front-end loading in terms of your website: make it clear what your process is and who should be contacting candidates. If it’s anyone else, provide a link for candidates to forward any suspicious emails or texts. You can even have a WhatsApp number for them to forward messages to in order to capture some of these activities.

Once a few legal letters go out, you’ll get a reputation and scammers will realize there are easier companies to go after.

Lydia: and with employer brands…

Robert: Yeah and these people are so excited to be working for the company. The last thing you want is for them to have their hopes built up and then be swindled by folks asking for payments. Charging people for a job is a violation of most countries’ laws and a few international conventions. These are criminal acts that these folks are engaging in.

My advice is to front-end load your website and be aggressive in preventing recruitment fraud.

Lydia: What are some ways to scan for or find out if you’re being mentioned? Do you use any tools to check if you’re being falsely represented elsewhere?

Robert: Yes, we do pay for services sometimes. This is in terms of who is using our ads because you can use the word like a plagiarism checker. We also have this out there. Sometimes they are aggregators and sometimes they are far-flung aggregators from Lithuania.

Between either service or the recruiters, they typically tend to find where these are available. However, the scammers have gotten really good. They will contact people through LinkedIn and say they are from an agency representing us.

The other piece to note is that we rarely use agencies. We would state that we only work with these two agencies and name them.

Diversity in Hiring: Job Ads and Skills-Based Approach

Lydia: Sorry, I missed this part earlier, but I wanted to bring up diversity, equity, and inclusion, as you mentioned earlier. It is one of the things we look out for in terms of talent because the talent pool has become so diverse. As you said, even in legal hiring, you’ll see more diversity.

In what ways can an organization make DE&I part of their employment practices and policies? How can it be implemented?

Robert: The first step is for leadership to publicly state their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In North America, there are numerous lists that corporations can join and publicly declare their commitment to improving diversity. They can also set specific metrics and focus on inclusion through public pronouncements.

Large corporations usually include a section on DE&I in their annual reports. Some states or provinces require companies to submit reports to the government showing how their initiatives are progressing based on their own targets in this area. There is also a big push on the pay equity side.

Before, it used to be about gender and maybe a little bit about race. But now, because of the intersectionality of all these pieces, you’re looking at neurodiversity, LGBTQ+, gender and trans folks, and more. It’s very important to make sure you have an inclusive workspace before even working on the diversity piece. You can bring in diverse candidates, but if they don’t feel welcome at your workplace or if there aren’t other people like them there, it will be tough to retain them.

That’s why I always say to make sure you have an inclusive workspace first. Otherwise, all the work you do getting diverse candidates could potentially be wasted because people won’t feel like they can thrive and bring their whole selves to work. When people start posting about your company on LinkedIn without being prompted, that’s when you know you’ve created a great thing internally. Then you can focus on becoming even more diverse.

Lydia: That’s a great point. When you take it one step at a time and look at the stages of development in terms of implementation, you can really see the results and anticipate what you can expect by making it broader and expanding in terms of processes.

In terms of HR technology, it is a must today in this digital world. These technologies also help us. What kind of impact do you think these technologies and tools will have on recruitment and continue to have on recruitment?

Robert: Let’s start with a job ad. There are some great tools out there to make sure that your job ad doesn’t favor one gender over another and isn’t offensive to certain cultures and people. It should be clear and welcoming. You can even use language specific to appeal to women if your diversity target is to bring more women into the leadership team.

For example, if you write a job ad that talks about winning, being aggressive, and conquering the market with aggressive words, studies show that women are less likely to apply. If, on the other hand, you talk about getting results in a collaborative manner and working as a team, some surveys have found that women tend to apply in larger numbers.

So, it starts there with technology like Applicant Tracking Systems and testing regimes. This is an important piece for DE&I because if you engage in skills-based hiring, the inevitable result will be a more diverse workforce.

For instance, here in Canada, we have a great technical school called the University of Waterloo with a world-renowned computer science program. People often say they just want a top graduate from Waterloo in computer science. But what you’ll get is predominantly white or Asian males.

Our point is that we’re hiring developers to write code. It doesn’t matter where they learned it or whether they went to Waterloo or Niagara College down the road. They either know how to code well or they don’t. By focusing on skills, we found that over the course of six months, we went from single digits to 38% women and from low double digits in teams to 54% BIPOC. LGBTQ+ and neurodiverse representation also increased dramatically through self-disclosure.

Just by focusing on skills-based hiring rather than the right school, degree, or employer, we went down to the basics and looked at who knows how to code and who matches our values as an organization. When we brought those folks in, productivity went up 19%.

Lydia: When did you do this analysis on the applicants? Was it after seeing the increase in productivity or before? Which one informed the other?

Robert: We saw the numbers coming through in terms of people. Sometimes it’s obvious in terms of gender, race, or national background. Some of the other areas are less obvious. We saw the numbers improving and when we did a survey a few months later, we saw some of the other areas like neurodiversity and LGBTQ+ representation improving.

Some of it was happening live and some of it was a nice surprise later. That organization ended up being a great place to work and was in the top 10. To me, that’s powerful branding. If you don’t have to say it but are living it and your people internally are talking about it to their friends who are broadcasting it out, that’s really nice. You’re walking the talk and your employer branding efforts are working.

Curiosity and Experimentation in Crafting Solutions

Lydia: That’s how far skills-based recruitment can take you. That’s a great example. Thanks for sharing, Robert. You’ve given so many great, tangible, and useful tips today on the show. What advice would you give someone starting out in the talent space today?

Robert: I’m an optimist but also very curious. Hopefully, you are curious by nature or can become curious about everything. There are numerous solutions to problems. People have asked me why I’ve done 42 HR tech implementations and why I can’t just stick to one product. The reason is that one product may not be the right fit for a particular company.

I start over again almost every time by talking to stakeholders, looking at data, and considering the latest research from academia and my past experience. If I’m intellectually honest, I put out a request for proposal (RFP) and it’s almost a different system that wins every time. This is because I’m curious about the organization, how it runs, who the people are, and where they want to go.

It’s that innate curiosity and taking all that information to craft a solution that was good for them at that time but not necessarily what I did at my last job. The reason I was successful there was because I listened, was curious, dug in, and asked a million questions about everything.

So, it’s about being curious and absorbing information. The last piece is not being afraid to experiment and use that word. If you say you’re going to change a policy or process, it can be too far. Start with an experiment with a small group where you’ve already spoken to them and they know they want to change. Look for what we call positive deviance and do an experiment or pilot test.

The two big things are to stay curious and not be afraid to experiment.

Lydia: Thank you so much for joining us on the show, Robert. For our viewers and listeners on our podcast, where can they find you? What is your preferred channel?

Robert: My first channel is LinkedIn. Go ahead and follow or connect with me. If you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. I believe in knowledge sharing. I am where I am because people have shared their knowledge with me. It’s not because I’m unique or special or thought of these things on my own. People have shared their time and knowledge with me and I’m happy to pay it forward.

Lydia: Thank you very much. We have been in conversation with Robert St-Jacques, Director of Legal Talent at Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver, Canada. Thank you for joining us this week. Remember to subscribe to our channels to stay tuned for more insights from All In Recruitment.

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