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A comprehensive(ish) guide to researching firms

A comprehensive(ish) guide to researching firms

The Rookie Lawyer


Reading time: six minutes

The dawn of application season is upon us.

For those of us who want to secure a training contract or vacation scheme with a commercial law firm, the time for planning and researching is nigh. But, of course, before you even start applying, you have to know what you're applying for.

Here's a thorough guide on how to research firms, what to look for and how to get what you're looking for out of your research. Feel free to copy it down, take it apart and add to it as you see fit!

The research

Firm websites

You'll probably begin your quest in the most obvious location – a firm's website. Keep an eye out for a firm's key features:

  • Main practice areas and reputation: What does the firm excel at? What’s it known for?
  • Geographical spread: Is it an international or regional firm? How many offices does it have? Does it offer opportunities for trainees to go on international secondments? 
  • Recent news/deals, newsletters and reports.
  • Culture: What kind of opportunities does it offer? Does it have any social networks? What's its working-from-home policy and attitude to work/life balance?
  • Pro bono and corporate social responsibility.
  • Marketing: Keep an eye out for a firm's slogan, colours and even the images it uses on its website. These can provide useful insights into the firm as a whole, including its values and the kind of candidate it might be looking for.


Once you're done poking around on the firm's website, have a glance at some other law-related websites, too (and here I have to shamelessly plug LCN's firm profiles – seriously, check them out).

LawCareers.Net also interviews solicitors, recruiters and trainees to get you the inside scoop so you can discover further insights into a firm, what it’s looking for and more. Take a look at LCN’s:

LawCareers.Net also has its own ‘Researching firms’ page with great advice to help you get the process started. Plus, LCN’s masterclass series offers great insights into what it’s like to work in certain practice areas at different firms – you can watch all the previous masterclasses via YouTube and register (for free) for any upcoming ones via LCN’s events page.

It might also be helpful to have a look at Forage, where some firms offer free virtual internships or online courses. If you have time, it might be worth completing one of these courses – not only are they a good experience for you, but they could also give your application more of an edge!

Social media

The next step is to do some social media stalking – er, I mean research. The most useful place to start is probably LinkedIn. Look out for whether anyone who works at the firm you’re researching has anything in common with you – for instance, did you go to the same university, graduate from your school or do the same undergraduate degree? If so, consider reaching out and use your similarities as a common starting point from which you could then ask questions you have about their experiences at the firm.

Training contracts

The final step is to take notes on the firm’s training contract experience. What's the firm's trainee retention rate? What’s life like for a trainee at that firm? How many seats does the firm offer and how much agency do you get in picking the sectors you train in? How well-structured is the training contract? Is there an atmosphere of mutual support or is it more of a 'you're on your own kid' kind of deal? There's no right or wrong answer to these questions – it'll all depend on what you, as a future trainee, value and want from your training contract.

This leads us onto our next point quite nicely…

Determine your priorities

Once you've had a little gallivant around a firm's website and gathered some of the main important facts about that firm, consider your own priorities. Personally, I find it helpful to write a pros and cons list in the form of a table; I tend to have one column for the specific features of the firm that I liked (these would go in your application or else be referenced in your interview if you get that far!) and another column for things I wasn't particularly fond of. Doing this exercise helped me to shape and understand what my priorities were, so that the process of researching subsequent firms became easier and faster – for example, I’d know more immediately whether or not a firm was the right fit for me, or whether I was the right fit for the firm.

Things to consider include, the firm’s:

  • work/life balance;
  • working policies (eg, hybrid, remote or full-time office);
  • culture;
  • specific practice areas;
  • geographical spread; and
  • trainee cohort size.

Skimming through the application form

My technique when it comes to filling out application forms – whether they're for vacation schemes, training contracts or even open days – is to skim read the application and focus, initially, on the longer questions. Every form has them – some variation of 'Why this firm?' or even, more widely, 'Why do you want to be a solicitor?' I wouldn't recommend preparing stock answers to these questions. Instead, I propose noting them down and starting with them. There are probably going to be common denominators across the different forms you fill out, particularly for the more general questions – there are only so many reasons you want to be a solicitor, after all – but in general, take a couple of days to really plan out, write and edit your answers to each individual question. Cast your mind back to activities you did at school and university, and think about the skills you learned from them, and whether you have evidence of any skills that are relevant to the questions on the application form.

Because these questions can often be the most paralysing, and, equally, the most crucial, part of a form, getting them over and done with before doing anything else can simplify the daunting task of filling out a form. Once you've completed with the longer questions, you've finished the hardest part of the application first – all that's left for you to do is fill in your grades, past work experience and the other simple facts.

However, if you’re using LawCareers.Net make the most of its MyLocker function. MyLocker is a central applications hub designed so you can store this key information (eg, A-level results), which can then be copied straight over into most AllHires Graduate application forms.

You can find a list of MyLocker-enabled firms on your MyLCN account under the MyLocker tab.

However, there's no point doing all that planning if you're not going to edit. As always – and you can think of this as more of a life lesson than a purely career-related one – don’t forget to proofread!

Researching firms is never easy. It's a process that you'll constantly be refining and never quite perfect. That doesn't mean, however, that you should give up on it. As long as you play your cards right, and do your research, you've done all that you can do. The rest is up to the firms or, as the song goes, in the lap of the gods!