Would Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator make a good talent recruiter?

Undoubtedly, no. Terminators aside, there is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) has become a key tool in legal recruiting. Yet, AI has heightened rather than diminished the role of the recruiter in finding and assessing legal talent. Why?

To answer that question, it helps to understand that AI is part of a larger trend over the past two decades of technology transforming legal recruiting. The arrival of LinkedIn in 2003 had a tremendous impact. Before LinkedIn, legal recruiters might spend years cultivating a network of lawyers, paralegals, and legal ops professions to draw upon when seeking a suitable candidate for a position. LinkedIn destroyed that paradigm. Suddenly, a list of potential candidates was a click away.

But while LinkedIn leveled the playing field, it did not spell the end for recruiters. LinkedIn profiles could only reveal so much; teasing out the nuances of a candidate’s experience and expertise still required someone – the recruiter – able to read between the lines of a LinkedIn profile. Ironically, because LinkedIn made it easy to find candidates, the recruiter’s role in assessing them became even more critical.

In the wake of LinkedIn came a proliferation of job websites. Instead of relying on recruiters to find legal talent, law firms and law departments could post a job listing and have the talent come to them. Gone were the days of a want-ad in a local newspaper resulting in at most a few dozen applicants; employers instead found themselves flooded with resumes from job seekers near and far. The problem was no longer finding candidates; now, employers needed new ways to screen for talent. Again, recruiters remained indispensable: they could zero in on the applicants who best matched the essential criteria for a specific position.

Along came AI, with Mya, Ideal, HireVue, Humantic, and other companies now offering AI platforms to automate candidate screening. The concept is simple enough: specify the relevant qualifications (e.g., years of experience, the field of specialization, the average length of employment per position, the ranking of the law school the candidate graduated from, topical keywords, etc.), and AI quickly and accurately narrows down the pool of applicants to the ones that best meet the hiring criteria, with hiring managers freed up to focus on these candidates and ignore all the others.

Like the technological advances before it, AI’s power is impressive, and its impact has been profound. But it is the combination of AI with uniquely human abilities that has advanced legal recruiting beyond what machine or human could accomplish alone.

AI excels at finding the needles of talent hidden in haystacks of CVs. But a legal professional’s resume never tells a complete story, so there’s still no substitute for an astute and experienced recruiter asking a candidate to elaborate on the types of matters they’ve worked on, teasing out details about their skills and expertise, and – crucially – assessing a candidate’s demeanor and interpersonal skills.

Similarly, AI has yet to reach the point where it can “think” creatively about how to meet an employer’s needs. Sometimes, a hiring manager will insist that certain qualifications are must-haves, but it turns out that a candidate who doesn’t “check all the boxes” is nonetheless an excellent fit for the role. Other times, there may be a candidate able to add unique value beyond what the job listing calls for. Recruiters can take a holistic view of an employer’s needs in ways that AI as yet cannot.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – AI cannot foster a human connection with a candidate. Candidates want the hiring process to be fast and convenient, but the human touch remains irreplaceable. The best candidates become loyal to recruiters who get to know them as people and look for the best opportunities for them.

AI has proven to be a powerful and useful development in legal recruiting. But far from being the terminator of the legal recruiter’s role, AI has made the human factor more important, not less. Together, AI and skilled legal recruiters deliver better results than ever before possible.