Assessment Centres – An Example Group Exercise

Ruspino Lynch LLP – Pro Bono Group Exercise

Summary: The candidates are Trainees at an international law firm (Ruspino Lynch LLP,) headquartered in London (in Tower Hamlets.) The Firm has recently become part of a Consortium, ‘Firms for Change,’ that focuses on improving their local community (in this case, inner-city London).

Firms for Change features a number of Ruspino Lynch’s key competitors; as a result, the Senior Partner has been clear regarding the importance of strong contributions at all levels of the Firm.

As demonstrated by the Senior Partner, the Firm is fully committed to contributing to the Consortium and as a result, they have established a new and larger budget for this initiative.

As a Trainee you have been asked to contribute through pro bono work. The current programme sees Trainees attend a local Legal Advice Centre on Tuesday evenings. Attendance levels have been relatively low, and anecdotally Trainees are aware that it is unpopular due to the late hours and inconsistent nature of the work. The centre is also on the other side of London to Ruspino Lynch’s offices, meaning travel time can be an issue. There is also pressure to prioritise fee-earning work, which has directly impacted attendance around busier times, especially Christmas.

The new budget means that the Firm is seeking to replace the existing pro bono initiative in order to better contribute to the Consortium. The budget will only allow for one new initiative.

Using the information available, we would like you to discuss, as a group, a list of potential initiatives that the Firm could get involved with in order to contribute to the Consortium.  We would like you to finalise your choices to your top initiative and present a skeleton plan for the Firm’s engagement with this.

Please note that the final document in each pack is a unique piece of information that other candidates do not have in your packs.

You will have 15 minutes to read the enclosed information, and then 40 minutes of discussion time. After this, you will have 5 minutes to present, as a group:

  • The most suitable pro bono opportunity for both the Trainee programme, and the Firm;
  • the reasoning behind your selections;
  • a skeleton plan with suggestions for matching Firm expertise to particular pro bono opportunities; and
  • any support you require from the Firm to ensure the success of this project.

For the purposes of this exercise, please discount the current pandemic from your decision-making process.

Below you will find your briefing pack; this contains a number of documents designed to help you in your discussion.

 

Briefing Pack

  1. A statement from Lyla Hallahan (Senior Partner,) regarding the recent commitment to the Consortium, ‘Firms for Change’;

Dear All,

It is with a great amount of pride that I am able to announce that we have become a part of ‘Firms for Change,’ a Consortium that aims to directly engage with our surrounding community, and have a positive impact on the lives of our neighbours and the space that we share. The Consortium will leverage the capabilities of its signatories and direct them towards a number of community initiatives.

On a personal level, it is of great importance to me that as a firm, we are active contributors to the growth and success of our community. As a Ruspino Lynch LLP ‘lifer,’ I have worked in the same building since I was a Trainee, and I have grown immensely fond of the area. The success of this Consortium is of personal importance to me, and should be to all employees who come to work here each day.

The success of this Consortium also runs parallel to our success as a business. Many of you will have noted that a number of our competitors are signatories; this will therefore serve as another source of direct comparison. The impact of our pro bono commitments are of great importance to our clients, and they will note our contribution with great interest. A strong contribution will be critical in winning future work in a tough economic climate.

The success of this project will require positive and consistent input from all levels of the business. It will also require bold thinking in order to maximise the potential that this Firm undoubtedly possesses.

I hope this email has given an insight into the importance of this project, on every level. I wish you all the best of luck, and am of course available to provide any assistance to anyone who needs it.

Regards,

Lyla Hallahan, Senior Partner

  1. Data on levels of departmental capacity/level of pro bono activity for the next six months;
Department Predicted Utilisation Pro Bono
Banking 6.5 12%
Financial Services & Investments 4 11.5%
Tax 8.5 11.50%
Structured Capital Markets 10 18%
Mergers & Acquisition 6 16%
Corporate Finance 8 24%
Private Equity & Funds 4 23%
Corporate Reorganisations 6 13%
Energy, Mining & Infrastructure 9.5 22%
Disputes 7 16%
EU Competition & Trade 8 21%
Employment 10 8%
IPTech 6 11%
Pensions 5 23%
Real Estate 8 14%

*Please note: Predicted Utilisation refers the number of hours that Trainees are forecasted to complete in an average day, based on Legal Project Management (LPM) assessments of upcoming work streams over the next 6 months.

** Please note: pro bono refers to the percentage of hours billed by Trainees that were recorded under pro bono in the last 6 months.

  1. An article in ‘The Solicitor’ featuring an Associate from a competitor Firm, discussing her time with the Asylum Rights Research Initiative

Over the past year, Global Law Firm Ochil Blackford LLP have been heavily involved in in the research initiative that has been outlined above. The below is an excerpt from Junior Associate Maeve Swan, who discusses her experiences working on the initiative in an interview for ‘The Solicitor’:

For me personally, it was a fantastic initiative to be involved in. I qualified with the Firm during the pandemic, and the vast majority of my Training Contract was remote. As a result, I have not been exposed to the broad range of people that a Trainee normally would have over the course of my Training Contract. Being involved in this initiative meant that I encountered such a broad range of people from many different departments, and a number of different jurisdictions, as the nature of the work encourages contributions from all employees.

From the work perspective, it was fantastic to be involved in a truly global project. As a commercial Real Estate lawyer, my work has mostly been limited to the London skyline so far. The project massively improved my research abilities, and gave me an amazing insight into the way in which different jurisdictions interact with each other. There are an incredible range of legal protections on an international and regional scale, and researching these has proved to be utterly fascinating, as well as truly eye-opening.

Finally, the best part of this was the project itself. The work is everything that I believe pro bono work should be; working to assist those who most desperately need it, yet have little to no recourse to do so. There has been criticism that the impact of this project has not been proportionate to the time and resources that have been invested into it; my perspective is very different. This project is only just beginning, and represents a truly unique opportunity for a firm to engage in a pro bono initiative of global importance, that offers unique benefits to its participants, as well as obvious ones to its’ recipients.

  1. Article in The Solicitor: ‘Social Enterprise Initiative takes off’

A social enterprise initiative that recently started in London has seen the first of its enterprises develop into a fully-fledged and self-standing initiative.

‘Tech for Teaching’ is a social enterprise aimed at helping children in underperforming schools in London gain access to the skills they need through supporting additional classes with a particular focus on IT and computing skills. The initiative originally began by selling ethically sourced coffee in local areas with the profits going to support the additional computing classes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds with limited IT access.

‘Tech for Teaching’ has been successful in a number of inner-city London boroughs and it is now looking to expand into more areas across London. The founder of the initiative has said ‘we are pleased to see the continued success of the roll outs of additional support in schools and targeting those areas with the greatest skills gap. It is great to see children benefit from this scheme and I am very happy with the positive outcomes so far. We are still building for the future and have big plans to expand the initiative further and wider’.

The Prime Minister recently recognised the success of the initiative in a speech about education initiatives in the country. The Prime Minister highlighted this initiative as a shining light that the government were looking closer at in order to try and emulate the success in areas across the country.  

This success grew out of a local social enterprise initiative that started in London and was aided by a number of City law firms that offer their expertise free of charge in order to help the initiatives get on their feet. This is a great example of a social initiative being supported by the private sector and producing a successful roll-out for the benefit of school children. Given the great press coverage this has garnered for the law firm, and its Managing Partner, involved it is surely only a matter of time before more firms jump in to back these enterprises looking to operate on their doorsteps.

  1. From: Simon Harrison, Chair of the Charity ‘FreeLegal’:

The recent Social Improvement Survey, produced by the now-defunct ‘Access in Law’ organisation detailed how ‘a third of the adult population in England and Wales have unresolved legal problems. Only 10% of that group immediately get the advice they need, and only half of them do get appropriate advice.’

Underpinning this is the fact that the legal aid budget has fallen by £900m since LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders) took effect, making huge parts of civil law inaccessible to those who require it most. Recent proposals for an increase have been capped at £400m, which does very little to address the issue of access. To magnify the current issues, local authorities have reduced, or in some cases totally removed advice services from their own offerings.

Amongst the worst-affected areas is inner-city London. Tower Hamlets has experienced a huge number of employment issues stemming from waves of job losses stemming from the recent pandemic, which has crushed job prospects generally in the last year, and worsened conditions in an area that was struggling prior to the pandemic.

Equally, homelessness levels have risen in London by 23% since the beginning of 2020. Our organisation partners with several homelessness charities who are in desperate need of legal support following a year of limited fund-raising opportunities and difficult legal challenges to navigate.

It is fantastic to hear that your firm is intending to do more in relation to pro bono work in inner-city London, and I hope that the above information will assist in guiding your decision-making as to where you deploy your resources. Good luck! 

  1. Four different pro bono initiative options;

Employment Legal Advice Clinic

Trainees would be helping a local advice clinic dealing with employment issues from people in the local area, for example with employment contract disputes and possibly attending employment tribunals. The clinic is a 5 minute walk from the Firm’s offices, and is usually extremely busy.

Pros:

  • The Firm has a very strong employment practice, which has traditionally been a massive draw for Trainees when considering applying to the Firm. It is also consistently one of the most popular departments in the seat rotation, meaning that there would be high levels of engagement.
  • This would represent good experience for Junior Lawyers in particular. A key part of the development of legal Trainees is formulating a style in which they deliver advice. This clinic represents a fantastic opportunity to hone these skills, and play a key part in developing Trainees.
  • The clinic is focused on the local area (inner-city London). This means a short travel-time, as well as fitting neatly with the stated aim of the Consortium.

Cons:

  • This will require some Employment expertise so is restricted to people who are in or have been in an Employment seat. The Employment team only takes 12 Trainees per year, which is 60% of all Trainees.
  • Employment team are currently very busy, and there may not be much capacity to help out.
  • There are difficulties in running conflict checks in these scenarios, due to the varied nature of cases that come from the clinic. The turnaround times are also extremely tight, and it may be that a lot of work is not actually taken on.

Asylum Rights Research Initiative (ARRI)

Trainees would be joining a ‘Think Tank’; specifically, researching and drafting a global map setting out the rights of asylum seekers in each jurisdiction. ARRI has been operational for two years; this project represents its most ambitious effort yet, due to the scale associated with the different jurisdictions that the map would represent.

Pros:

  • Unlike the Clinic, this would allow anyone to participate regardless of their department.
  • From a firm perspective, this would provide a unique marketing position for the Firm as this is a global initiative, and would be accessed globally. A positive contribution could lead to superb exposure for the Firm.
  • This is a flexible initiative that would see lawyers being able to spend as much or little time on it depending on their current capacity.

Cons:

  • This does not focus on the inner-city London area.
  • It would also require a lot of allocated time and, in particular, local counsel would be required for reviewing the draft versions.
  • There are question marks around its overall impact compared to the time and effort spent on the initiative. This has derived from previous projects created by ARRI, which is beginning to develop a reputation for style over substance.

Supporting a local homelessness charity (Indoors For All)

Trainees would be helping a local homelessness charity with general legal advice. This can cover a range of issues, from governance to tax issues, as well as employment advice.

Pros:

  • This is strongly focused on the inner-city London area, and has a direct and visible impact. As a result, this is a good marketing opportunity for the Firm.
  • The charity’s requests could be dealt with by different teams so can include a mix of people and departments.

Cons:

  • The help is not directed towards individuals, but focused on helping the charity itself.
  • The Firm does not have any charity expertise so there may be requests from the charity that we are unable to help with.
  • Although it is good for firm marketing, the charity has recently had some bad press relating to a payment scandal with the CEO. The general opinion is that he is exceedingly lucky to still be in a role, and it is not the first time that issues have arisen as a direct result of this individual.

 Providing Support to Local Social Enterprises

Trainees would be helping local social enterprises by providing legal expertise to help them start up and grow as an entity.

Pros:

  • The area of focus is on London generally which includes the inner-city area.
  • It is not department specific, and has scope for a wide range of expertise. This represents an opportunity for different departments to get involved and cross-collaborate, as well as widening the potential range of participants.
  • There is a chance that one of these enterprises really takes off and becomes big enough to eventually be a client of the Firm.

Cons:

  • Whilst the area of focus is on London generally which includes the inner-city there is no guarantee that any of the social enterprises will be from the inner-city area.
  • The social enterprises are not sophisticated users of legal expertise so there is a risk that we will need to closely manage expectations.
  • Onboarding new clients for short pieces of work may not be time efficient.

**’This concludes the group exercise example. Below are the assessor notes, which provide an idea of what the assessors are looking for in the candidates performance.’**

Assessor Notes:

This group exercise is intended to feature four candidates. Each candidate will have in their briefing pack:

  1. The original briefing;
  2. The statement from Lyla Hallahan;
  3. The summaries of all four initiatives.

Each candidate will have one of the supporting pieces of information as their own unique piece of information. It is essential that the candidate is able to articulate theirs clearly, and appreciate the information shared by the other candidates.

Measures of success:

This task is a test of the participants ability to communicate with each other in a coherent, and structured fashion. Participants should think boldly, considering what matters to the key stakeholders in the task, and how to find a solution that satisfies as many of these stakeholders as possible. There are ample opportunities to see how they communicate whilst debating the various merits/pitfalls of the various initiatives – it should also allow for truly creative and innovative candidates to shine.

The narrow nature of the question at hand should encourage healthy debate, but also a focus on remaining within the parameters of the brief. There will likely be conflicting opinions on the best way forwards, which will test their ability to operate as a team. They will need to look at practical and cultural (in terms of Firm culture) barriers to participation, analyse data and compare different practice areas in a number of different ways to draw conclusions.

Candidates will be judged within the following parameters:

  • Will the candidates find connecting issues of importance from the various documents?
  • Are they creative in terms of how to pitch the benefits of increased pro bono activity? (think benefits to Trainees’ development, client opinion etc.)
  • Do they have the tenacity to suggest bold moves (as encouraged to by the Senior Partner)?
  • Can they draw together information from a wide range of documents in order to suggest win-win scenarios for the Firm, its pro bono clients and individual Trainees?

Can they address any commercial concerns which may have explained the historically low participation rate?

arrow_backBack to news