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Freshfields supports BITC campaign by removing criminal history question from application forms

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has opted to remove questions relating to criminal history from its job application forms in a bid to assess job seekers for its business services and support services functions on the basis of merit.

The Magic Circle firm says it is the first law firm to remove the criminal-record disclosure box from its preliminary application forms so job seekers are not excluded because of unrelated criminal convictions.

Following the changes, Freshfields will now request information about unspent criminal convictions only after a job offer is made, and any convictions disclosed will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The firm has emphasised the route will open new doors for employable ex-offenders judged primarily on suitability for the role but will not apply to legal roles.

The move comes as part of the firm’s support of Business In The Community‘s (BITC) ‘Ban the Box’ campaign, aimed to help applicants through to the interview phase based on equal opportunity. The firm has participated in BITC’s Ready for Work programme since 2001, offering a total of around 250 placements from which 23 have gained full-time employment. On average, over 55% of those who have gained work since 2001 have been employed for at least six months.

Freshfields partner Philip Richards commented: ‘The Ban the Box campaign is an excellent initiative that highlights the major role businesses can play in helping ex-offenders back into work, away from homelessness and from adding to reoffending rates.’

Corporate partner and former City head Tim Jones – who was recently hired as general counsel to England Rugby 2015, told Legal Business: ‘This is about working with people in the homeless sector and is for people who want to turn their lives. We are not saying criminal convictions are not significant, but you have to look at each individual’s case separately based on history, background and many other things. There will be an internal process; for example, if an individual has a probation officer, we would talk to them.’

BITC employability director Catherine Sermon said: ‘We are extremely grateful to Freshfields for their pioneering move in banning the box. Through this move we know that Freshfields will benefit from access to a wider, diverse and talented pool of applicants who may otherwise have been excluded. We hope that it inspires other firms that they too can change their application process.’