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Doing your research: how to make use of firms' annual reports

Doing your research: how to make use of firms' annual reports



You don’t need me to tell you that it’s important to know about a firm before you apply to it, and that you’re able to demonstrate that knowledge during the application process. If you’re reading this, you will have heard that advice hundreds of times already. Instead, I’m going to suggest one way of coming closer to the required level of knowledge: annual reports.

As a potential applicant, it can be difficult to cut through the jargon on firms’ careers pages. All of the major firms seem keen to highlight that they’re people-focused, globally oriented and forward thinking, making it difficult to glean what makes them distinctive. Moreover, there can sometimes seem to be a disconnect between the focuses firms imply in their careers section, and the ones they highlight to potential clients in the rest of the website. Annual reports can therefore be useful for two main reasons. Firstly, they are evidence-based, making it easier to see how firms’ stated aims translate into action. Secondly, since they cannot be aimed only at clients or only at potential employees, they can be useful for getting a more holistic picture of the firm.

As an example, take Allen & Overy LLP. The headline of their careers page states that they are a “pre-eminent global law firm, operating in over thirty countries around the world”. True, no doubt, but strikingly similar to other firms’ headline statements. Meanwhile, the first page of the body of their 2018 annual report explains that their ambition is to become “the world’s most advanced law firm”. This is then backed up with information about specific future-focused initiatives, such as Fuse, which offers space within their London office to tech start-ups, and the creation of a team of PhD-level scientific analysts for IP work – the kind of things you could mention on an application form, to show you’d really done your research.

Similarly, after sections reproducing talks from external speakers and a (very useful) summary of high-profile cases in which the firm has been involved in the last year, White & Case’s 2018 annual review includes an article on the expansion of their Legal Project Management initiative. This involves assigning a designated project manager to communicate directly with clients and provide real-time updates on the firm’s work for them. Again, this is the kind of concrete information that could be interestingly discussed during an application process.

Not all law firms are obliged to produce publicly available annual reports or reviews. Many instead opt to produce an annual report only on their pro bono work. However, those that do produce an annual report may well be providing you, as a potential applicant, with a quick and useful way to discover more about the firm’s ethos, initiatives and focuses.