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Staying competitive: identifying competitors for a successful application

Staying competitive: identifying competitors for a successful application

Neide Lemos


Reading time: six minutes

Application season for most of the largest law firms might be over for another year, but it’s never too early to start thinking about where you will be applying in the subsequent recruitment round. So, don’t be disheartened if you were unsuccessful in this application round.

The chances are that your favourite law firm has a competitor that’s more suited to you. With exam season soon coming to an end, now’s the time to start gaining an idea of where you want to apply to save yourself some valuable time in the next academic year. Deciding where to apply can be the easiest and the hardest decision of all – how do you limit the number of applications to truly target the law firms that you want to join?

A key ingredient to have in your application toolkit is understanding where you want to apply and the law firm’s key competitors.

Watch this webinar recording to hear directly from law firm recruiters and lawyers as they share exactly what they want to see on applications and how you can succeed at this vital stage of the recruitment process.

What’s a competitor?

A competitor engages in economic activity by marketing and selling a product and service to compete with other similar businesses in the market. In law, there’s a direct liaison between law firms in relation to attracting clients, i.e. becoming part of the panel for major insurers. Competitors aim to retain their clients but to also attract potential clients from other firms. Without competition it would be difficult to attract clients and maintain business.

To understand what your chosen law firm and its competitor do, it might be a good idea to create a table. When researching law firms, look for the firm’s strengths and offerings, the sectors/markets in which they practise in, their unique selling point and how they differentiate themselves from its competitors.

To find out how to research firms thoroughly, read this Feature: ‘How to do effective online research for application’.

To decide which firm to apply to and to effectively answer this question in an interview, you need to tell the interviewer your thoughts on the firm, its position in the legal industry and know a little about its clients.

For an in-depth guide to researching law firms, read our Feature 'How to research law firms when applying for vacation schemes.

Practice area and sector

At first, you’ll probably be thinking that practice areas and sectors are the same thing. However, it’s important to distinguish the two so that you don’t get them mixed up in the application process. A sector refers to the industry such as healthcare and energy, whereas a practice area refers to the legal work that is practised within the industry, including litigation and dispute resolution and construction law.

Interested in becoming a solicitor? Head to the Solicitor’s practice area profiles!

Law firms are likely to compete with other law firms that share expertise in certain practice areas. Although, we are seeing a shift from practice area to sectors, law firms are full service so when a client is seeking a law firm to offer them legal advice, they will be in favour of the law firm with expertise in a particular practice area and sector. Using legal databases is a great way to identify the practice areas and sectors in which the law firm practises, and their ranking compared to other competitors.

Legal marketplace

It’s important to understand which firms compete in the legal marketplace. For example, a magic circle firm such as Clifford Chance will not see a national firm such as Burges Salmon LLP as one of its competitors. The law firm’s location and firm size is a key indicator of the type of feel you’ll get when you join the firm – a larger firm is more likely to do high-speed legal work but equally give you to the opportunity to work across offices across the globe. However, you may prefer the pace of a high-street or national firm which is likely to be slower paced but will give you the opportunity gain more client contact early on in your training.

Goals and strategy

Law firms that have goals to expand globally tend to compete for work with law firms that focus on international transactions. Equally, the geographical position of law firms can be seen as a strength – consider whether the law firm practises within a geographical location in which their clients operate in comparison to another firm that may not have expanded to that geographical location.

You can learn about a law firm’s goal and strategy simply by conversing with trainees or associates from that firm and by reading their annual reports. Annual reports are a great insight into the law firm’s current position and how it has met its strategy.

Disruptors in the legal industry

Nowadays, law firms are competing with new legal service offerings. The Big Four have in-house legal teams and can offer a more multi-disciplinary approach. Business for their in-house legal team is gained from other areas of their business such as their audit and advisory teams. This makes it easier to refer clients to the in-house legal team.

The Big Four can deliver a full-service approach and are already at the forefront of delivering fast moving technology and innovation such as KPMG’s ignition centre. As such, the Big Four compete with law firms by offering packaged legal solutions.


Different cultures of inclusivity, diversity, innovation, responsiveness and collaboration are important features of distinguishing what law firm stands out for you. Differentiating a law firms’ culture is increasingly challenging in the legal sector. Key initiatives within law firms is the best way to differentiate between the culture of a law firm, including a law firms focus on wellbeing and mental health which is found within Simmons & Simmons LLP.

You can state what makes the law firm stand out based on their culture and explain how the culture relates to you and your own interests. This is also a way of determining why you’d be a great fit for the firm.

Read this LCN Blog to find out more about which firm to apply to: ‘High street or big city – what type of firm is for me?’.

Typical questions that help to distinguish between competitors are:

  • who are our competitors?;
  • who else have you applied to?; and
  • what makes us stand out from other firms?.

When answering these questions, try to showcase your confidence and understanding of the firm and its competitors. This question is a great preparation to marketing your firm at networking events, to a new client and more. Law firms want to see that you not only know who their competitors are but that you’re able to contribute towards the law firms’ growth and competitive ability in the legal market.

To find out more about the types of law firms: