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How to identify the right law firm for you

How to identify the right law firm for you

Harriet Iles

03/09/2021

Whether this is your first application cycle or your fifth, identifying the right law firm for you might be the most important stage in the process.

You can’t start sending off your applications if you don’t know your reasons for doing so; some applications even include this question right at the beginning! Even if they don’t, this is something you’ll undoubtedly be asked at the interview or assessment centre stage. So, know your reasons and develop a persuasive answer. 

Tailor your application

The applicants' common downfall is answering too broadly. ‘The high-profile work’ or ‘the options for international secondment’ may indeed be things that attract you to the firm – but they’re also very generic and true of many firms!

Is there something about the work or secondments at this firm specifically that interests you, or maybe there’s something about you that means these things are personally important?

The focus of your research should be twofold – to realise what is personally important to you in your future place of work; and to identify which firms fit that profile. 

Research

All firms have characteristics that may be important to a potential applicant  these primarily boil down to the following: 

  1. Size – City, US, National, Regional or Niche. Firm size dictates the type of work that you'll be doing and the structure of your life day-to-day. Many websites and articles have detailed the nuances between firm size so this shouldn't be a hard one for you to work out! 
     
  2. Sectors or practice areas – applicants should all have a few practice areas or sectors of interest and should hone in on at least one of these in an answer. Typically, firms have one or two areas in which they are powerful and have built strong reputations. It is therefore essential to show your knowledge and enthusiasm – by no means do you have to know exactly where you want to qualify. 
     
  3. Clients – research the type of clients that the firm represents or advises, and work out whether these are the type of clients you would enjoy working with. Having household names to advise can be important for some, such as those particularly interested in completing a client secondment.
     
  4. Training – what’s the structure of the training contract? Does it have four seats? Six? Eight? Examine whether trainees can choose which practice areas they sit within, how they are supported in the process, and what opportunities they have – such as international or client secondments. 
     
  5. Other opportunities – these might include pro bono or skill sessions, for example. For someone passionate about volunteering, a firm’s involvement in pro bono work can be a reason for applying. Other opportunities available outside of the training contract may be skills classes such as coding. 
     
  6. USPs – identify a firm’s USP; it might be its technology, partnerships or objectives. A firm may have a unique department or partnership, an inspiring strategy for the next five years, net-zero commitments or a solid technological footing. 

Create a table detailing your research with these points to guide you. By diving in and starting to research a few different firms, you’ll find that you naturally realise which ones you’re more attracted to. If you find a pattern of enthusiasm for City law firms offering a particular international secondment, you're starting to realise what you want out of your career. You now need to work out why these aspects are important to you.

There’s no table that I can provide for you to answer this. After identifying what has attracted you to a firm, you should look at yourself – your paid employment, volunteering, academic background, extra-curriculars, and personal life or hobbies – and identify which of those things support your interest. For example, if you’re interested in firms that have a strong private equity practice, and you have previous work experience in a related area, let this form part of your answer! The hard evidence makes your answer genuine and sets you apart. 

Attend events

After you’ve worked out which firms interest you and your personal reasons as to why, you’re almost ready to send off that application. Before doing so, it can be useful to attend some firm-led events or law fairs to gain an even deeper insight into firms that have caught your attention. These events can confirm your passion or help you to realise your disinterest. They can also be helpful in providing an insight into the culture and ‘vibe’ of a firm – something you can’t gain from looking at the website. Speak to people from the firm, learn more and use your interactions with the firm to further bolster your application. 

Now, you’re ready!