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How to research law firms when applying for vacation schemes

updated on 04 October 2022

Conducting in-depth research into a law firm before making an application is essential – it'll be challenging to secure a vacation scheme or training contract without doing so. Here’s a succinct guide on how to research law firms when applying for vacation schemes.

Reading time: eight minutes

Career advisers and legal recruiters love to highlight to students the importance of doing detailed research before making vacation scheme and training contract applications.

However, where you find this information isn’t always immediately clear. Read on for our advice on getting started – research is easy when you know how.

Why researching law firms is so important

Detailed investigation into legal practices is vital if you’re to convince recruiters to offer you a job. Law firms don’t want to read generic applications that you’ve clearly fired off to hundreds of potential employers, without fully understanding who they are and what they do.

First, to secure a place on a firm’s vacation scheme or training contract you must show future employers that you fully understand:

  • the firm’s key practice areas;
  • what a training contract with them involves and that you’re up to the challenge; and
  • that you’ve targeted the firm specifically.

Doing all three is impossible without having first conducted detailed research into the firm in question.

Second, research is vital in differentiating firms and identifying the type of firm that’s right for you. And within each category, every firm is unique even though many of them look similar from the outside. It's hard to tell apart medium-sized commercial firms based in London, for example, until you get to know them individually, discover their USP and get a feel for their culture.

But remember that all firms have subtle differences to their competitors and you’ll need to convey an appreciation of the specific firm you’re applying to in order be successful and ensure you’re making the right choice.

Find out more about the type of work you’ll get involved in during a vacation scheme in these Vacation Scheme Insider reports.

How to get your research started

Now you know why doing this research is so vital, here's how to get underway…

LawCareers.Net

Kick off your investigations with us. The most logical starting point is the firm's LawCareers.Net (LCN) directory entry, which contains an overview of the practice and its vital statistics including:

  • office location(s);
  • salary package;
  • training contract application deadline;
  • areas of specialisation;
  • method of assessment; and
  • diversity and inclusion information.

A useful snapshot of the firm, this should be your first port of call as it allows you to identify quickly and easily whether this firm is a place you can imagine training.

Before you begin the next step and leave LCN for the firm's own website, see whether its LCN entry contains any additional features such as:

These will be located in the tabs on the firm's basic entry; a good example is Shoosmiths’ profile, which contains most of the above.

All of these, from the commercial analysis of the Commercial Question section to the recruitment and application insight of Meet the Recruiter, help to create an accurate picture of:

  • the firm’s practice areas;
  • commercial drivers;
  • people; and
  • office culture.

All of the above should heavily inform your applications if you decide that the firm might be the right fit.

If you have an account with LCN, you can store the information you need online on your My LCN dashboard. Using MyLCN to manage your legal career research will dramatically reduce the time your research takes and help you to keep track of the information you discover.

To find out more about how to use MyLCN, read:

Firm websites

Find firms' websites by clicking on the logo on their LCN listing or by doing a web search. This is where the in-depth knowledge on specialisations, geographical reach, ethos and careers is lurking, so get as much from here as you can.

The amount of career information to be found can vary quite dramatically, but these days it's rare for sites to not contain a reasonably sized careers section. Some firms even have special mini-sites devoted solely to recruitment.

A word of warning though – be aware of parroting information from a firm’s website onto the application form. Recruiters won’t be impressed if a candidate quotes facts and figures that are easily available to find online without analysis or reasoning. You must do more digging if your goal is to impress.

Legal directories

Independent material on law firms can be found in publications such as The LawCareers.Net HandbookChambers UK Student GuideChambers UK GuideLex 100 and the Legal 500.

These reliable sources will provide you with in-depth insight into the firm’s:

  • areas of expertise;
  • their ranking in different practice areas;
  • recent cases and clients; and
  • quotes from the mouths of clients and trainees.

Each of these publications contain different material, so we recommend using them in conjunction to get the most rounded picture. 

The LawCareers.Net Handbook is available to read for free online – the 2023 version of The Handbook will be available at the end of October 2022. To get your hands on a physical copy, check with your university careers service or law department. Alternatively, a limited number are available to order for free via the dashboard on your MyLCN account. Both Chambers UK Guide and the Legal 500 are also available online.

The legal press

The media is a fantastic place to find out how firms are perceived in the legal profession.

Try to look for news reports on topics such as:

  • recent deals;
  • turnover;
  • retention rates for newly qualified lawyers; and
  • trainee deferrals and diversity.

Search LCN’s News section, The Lawyer, the Law GazetteLegal WeekLegal Futures, the Times and the Guardian.

For a detailed guide to the legal press and other useful sources in the media, see this Feature, 'A guide to commercial awareness' and for an overview of commercial issues to be aware of read LCN's Feature on 'Trending commercial issues to know about in 2022.'

Our recent 2022-23 guide to the legal profession is another great place to read about some of the key issues facing the legal profession, as well as headline-grabbing cases and mergers you should know about.

Social media

In the same way that the legal press gives insight into how firms are perceived by the wider legal community, so does social media. Twitter is an excellent platform that offers objective opinions on, and up-to-the-minute updates from, firms.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that Twitter and LinkedIn far outstrip Facebook as tools for news and communicating with solicitors' firms (and barristers' chambers), as well as the highly active legal commentariat.

For a guide on making the most of LinkedIn, read ‘How to make the most of LinkedIn as a law student’ and for a guide on using Twitter to your advantage, read 'How Twitter can boost your law career'.

Also growing is firms and influencers using Instagram to interact with aspiring lawyers. Many firms and students are doing Q&As and making Instagram Live videos to share information about the legal world so following these accounts is a great way to find out about the profession and future employers. And some firms are slowly making their way onto TikTok too – stay tuned to see which law firm goes viral first…

For information on how to get the most out of social media, read our social media guide for aspiring lawyers.

Follow LawCareers.Net on:

Legal blogging

Combining with and augmenting the profession's widespread use of Twitter, legal blogging has also grown into a sizeable, committed and switched-on pool of regular bloggers from different areas of the legal sector.

You should be galvanised enough to incorporate a little blog-based research into your training contract hunt – this highly active community expresses viewpoints from all levels of the profession, from in-house solicitors and magistrates to trainees, recently-qualified lawyers, law journalists and aspiring lawyers.

You can glean a lot of privileged information about firms from people in the know who aren’t afraid of being candid about their opinions. Keeping up with the legal bloggers is another great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the profession.

Being informed about current events and issues within the law will help you to make the right decision regarding which firms you apply to.

The LCN bloggers also provide insight and advice from law and non-law students, graduates and aspiring solicitors and barristers.

Face time

So, you’ve conducted some thorough research online and feel that you’ve built a good picture of the firm, and why it’s somewhere you’d like to work. Now it's time for the most important step – researching face to face.

However great a firm may seem on paper, until you meet its representatives you can't know for sure whether it's the place for you. There are plenty of ways to get in contact with law firms' representatives, including law fairs, presentations, open days and networking events.

Go prepared, having thought in advance of a few questions you'd like to know the answers to, and you might even get yourself noticed by the graduate recruiters.

Here’s some more guidance on how to make the most of a law fair, while this LCN Says, 'A student’s guide to networking', and our video on how to network online offers additional tips.

You can also listen to episode 10 of The LawCareers.Net Podcast which explains the importance of networking and shares tips on how to approach networking events with insights from Alex Lima and Ayaz Saboor.

Follow each step outlined above and use MyLCN to keep track of the data you unearth, and you'll have all the info you need to make that winning application. All that's left now is to get digging – good luck!