An EPIC Approach to Diversity Hiring in the Legal Profession

Tommy Latino, OMBA ’22 recently published his findings related to his work developing a highly unbiased, predictive hiring model that uses demographically neutral personality traits to quantify the suitability of litigation and transactional attorney applicants at law firms.

Latino, a career advisor and the Employer Development Manager at Florida State University (FSU) College of Law, became aware of the institutional challenges law firms faced as they looked to diversify their human capital, first as a practicing lawyer in the early 2000s and then as a Big Law recruiter working on behalf of firms in New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

“I realized I had a talent in identifying the weaknesses in the structure of the law firm business models. The legal industry had serious issues regarding its methodology for sourcing, selecting, and evaluating human capital,” he said.

As an avid baseball fan, Latino was first introduced to the analytics movement and its impact on talent acquisition after watching his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, end a 108-year drought to win the 2016 World Series. Following the team’s win, Latino read countless articles about the analytical concepts depicted in the book and feature film “Moneyball” before making the connection between the acquisition of athletic talent in sports and the similarities to recruitment of human capital in the legal profession.

“If a team is a team, then it doesn’t matter if they hit curveballs or file motions and briefs; the concept of building a team holds across industries,” he explained. “Analytics, sabermetrics, and Moneyball could all be used to fashion an objective, cost-effective model for identification and evaluation of human capital within law firms.”

Project EPIC is Born

Latino theorized the law firms that could successfully implement such a model would establish a competitive advantage much like Chicago Cubs did in 2016. What started out as a research brief into the topic, morphed into a master’s thesis and ultimately shaped his proposal for a new operational model for the American law firm which is built around objectivity, fairness, and race/gender neutrality.

“Project EPIC would have never gotten off the launch pad if it were not for the support of a couple of valued mentors at FSU. Each of these individuals contributed to the creation of the model, they allowed me to bounce ideas off them, and they even double checked my work. Their support allowed me to make a compelling case to the Dean and directly resulted in Project EPIC being born. Without it, Project EPIC stays on the chalkboard,” he said.

Latino also sought out two of the nation’s leading experts in psychologist John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) to help develop the foundation of his model. Coupled with the design thinking skills he acquired through the Online MBA program at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business and the concepts discussed in Peter Simms book Little Bets, which forms the philosophical basis of the online MBA program, Latino combined all of these ideas into a working model.

“We’re looking at three elements: compatibility, ability, and profitability,” he said. “Being able to project which law students or lateral hires are most compatible, would be the most able, and ultimately, would be the most profitable before completing the interview process would take the struggle and difficulty out of legal hiring.”

In his recent article for the June 2020 edition of Washington Lawyer, Latino explains that the law firm hiring process must remove the import placed on GPA and class rank and instead focus on the collection of personality traits that have been identified as predictive of career longevity and success.

He says that by using the model he created for Project EPIC, firms can use objective, demographically neutral psychometric assessments to generate data to feed highly reliable and accurate predictive models that determine a candidate’s “fit” and ultimate success within a specific firm. Latino and his team believe that by implementing a model focused on a candidate’s personality traits versus traditional measures of success like GPA, class rank, and university ranking, will lead to an increase in diversity hiring within firms and contribute to overall firm’s profitability.

“Why wouldn’t a law firm want to find those common, neutral traits of their top rainmaking associates and then go out and look for those very traits on the open market?” Latino asked. “The overall accuracy of our model is 72 percent; it is 70 percent accurate in terms of projecting fit for litigators, and 74 percent accurate for transactional attorneys.”

Latino hopes to build upon the success of his model with further research and plans to submit a grant application for additional funding through the National Science Foundation in late January 2021.

“This would allow me to conduct one of the largest studies of its kind in the history of our industry,” he said.

Law as a Business

Latino’s experience in the Online MBA program has augmented his understanding of the cross-section of business and law. Thus far, he says he’s been able to implement nearly every concept he’s learned in the program into his professional work at FSU or through his research.

“I understood human capital is the most expensive item on a firm’s balance sheet and having an efficient hiring model was a large part of ensuring a firm’s success. If law firms are going to be truly efficient and effective, then they need to treat their employees not as lawyers who work for them, but as 100, 200, or 300 individual solo practitioners all working in a shared space. This will allow managers to apply objective, accurate business concepts to evaluate the performance of their human capital in a manner that is purely objective without regard to race, gender, or any demographic quality,” he said.

Latino says the industry is also changing so firms must adapt to an evolving landscape. Currently, there are only a few firms using predictive psychometric models in their hiring decisions. But with the onset of alternative legal service providers and major businesses requiring a diverse workforce for their contracted law services, it will force law firms to adopt hiring models that project fit and profitability in addition to operational schematics to be able to compete.

“The problem with the legal hiring model is that it is very credential-driven,” he said. “Firms tend to hire from the same top-25 law schools so when they say they love diversity, yet their diverse talent all comes from the same school or background, is that really diversity? It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that benefits nobody.”

Latino hopes that his research will help turn the industry on its side and move the needle forward from the way hiring has always been done while ultimately driving more diverse talent and increasing profitability through productive talent acquisition processes.

“There isn’t a legal employer who doesn’t honestly believe there is not a diversity problem within our industry. The problem is nobody knows how to fix it,” Latino said. “I hope firms begin to use models like mine to evaluate their attorneys just like they evaluate a smaller firm they wish to merge with. Hiring someone is just another form of a merger. Why shouldn’t firms trust the acquisition of the most expensive element on their balance sheet to a method that has been proven to provide highly qualified and diverse talent?”