Three firms appear among big wigs in top industry awards

by Sophie Schroder24 Oct 2014
The New Zealand Association of Graduate Employers (NZAGE) held its second annual Industry Awards last night, and the impressive list of finalists included three law firms.

Top tier Chapman Tripp took home the title of best graduate print marketing material, while Simpson Grierson was a finalist in both the award for best diversity strategy and for innovation in the graduate market, and Duncan Cotterill appeared in the category for best graduate development programme.

The three firms appeared alongside the likes of Deloitte, Teach First NZ, Fonterra and Auckland Council.

NZAGE is a not-for-profit industry body that helps to educate and support organisations that wish to, or currently, recruit and develop New Zealand graduates.

Its committee consists of a variety of successful Kiwi business people, including Siobhan Warren, the graduate program manager of Xero, Julia Paino, senior HR advisor at DLA Phillips Fox and Amanda Mitchell, senior talent sourcing advisor for Two Degrees Mobile.

Chapman Tripp human resources director, Sarah Coleman, told NZ Lawyer that this is the second time the firm has won the NZAGE award for the best graduate print marketing material.

The firm runs two graduate recruitment processes annually - one for our summer clerk programme, the other for our winter clerk programme.  It’s the only NZ law firm to offer the winter programme, says Coleman.

“These awards showcase best practice in graduate recruitment throughout New Zealand, so this result against such a high standard of competition is a valuable recognition of the talent within our recruitment and design teams, and our continuous focus on attracting the very best candidates,” she says.

Duncan Cotterill was another of the three firms to appear in the awards last night, and was a finalist in the best graduate development programme category.

Senior HR Advisor Lauren Murphy says that since introducing the formal graduate programme in 2010, graduate applications have more than trebled.

The firm’s graduate recruitment partner, Jonathan Scragg, says he’s delighted Duncan Cotterill has been recognised for its work to mentor and develop talented lawyers and future partners.

“We appreciate there is a steep learning curve involved in the transition from university to legal practice. Our programme gives our grads the training, structure and support they need, so that with application, time and effort, they will make this step with ease,” he says.

Simpson Grierson’s human resources director Jo Copeland told NZ Lawyer that as well as being “incredible”, the awards night also made her realise the extent of the opportunities that exist for law firms to improve their approach to recruiting new graduates, especially in regards to diversity.

An area where it was glaringly apparent that law firms are lagging is having an innovative graduate programme in place to attract Māori and Pasifika students, she says.

Teach First NZ, who won the best diversity strategy category that Simpson Grierson was a finalist in, have implemented a programme that offers bright students, many of them Māori and Pasifika, to go and teach in low decile schools and become role models and leaders.

And after receiving advice and guidance from a Kaumātua, it’s also introduced the idea of inviting whanau to interviews, says Copeland.

“That’s amazing. A law firm would never think to do that. I think the message is we can do so much better in this area.”

However, she says where Simpson Grierson really outshone the rest at the awards was in its commitment to LGBTI inclusion in the workplace.

The firm was the first organisation in the country to receive the Rainbow Tick, an international accolade that recognises workplaces that welcome sexual and gender identity diversity.

“There was no-one thinking about LGBTI – everyone was focused on gender and cultural diversity,” says Copeland. “I told them it was the easiest message to sell [to the partners], and it’s changed our culture here massively. I had people coming up to me afterwards and saying, ‘thank you for leading the way, I can’t believe we haven’t thought of this’.”

Copeland says after such an inspirational night, she’s also now set to have a meeting with the other two finalists in the diversity strategy category – Teach First NZ and Auckland Council – to collaborate and share ideas.

And she says in terms of future recruitment, all the law firms recently got together to plan for the next round of graduates.

They will then put up a united front when visiting the different universities, which Copeland thinks works well because different firms are not always competing for the same candidates.

The preparation of graduate recruitment campaigns is already getting underway and the major drive for law firms will be from March to May next year.

Copeland has seen major shifts in the methods of recruitment over the past couple of years.

The main one is the use of the internet as a platform to find and attract talent. One website, called Graduate Connection, is like Seek but for university leavers and didn’t exist two years ago, she says.
“That’s a totally different channel in the market and one we haven’t seen before.”

Annually this website publishes a survey that collates the top 10 most desirable workplaces in New Zealand. Just yesterday, it was announced that Simpson Grierson is the only law firm to appear on that list, alongside the likes of Google.

Copeland is “absolutely thrilled”.

She says currently Simpson Grierson’s graduate recruitment focus is not just on grades, but also places heavy importance on things like community leadership and sporting achievements.

In the last round the firm hired 12 people, seven of whom were different ethnicities.

This round, Simpson Grierson will probably look to take on about 20 graduates.