updated on 15 January 2021
Conducting in-depth research into a law firm before making an application is absolutely essential – it is impossible to secure a training contract without doing so. Here is a guide to that much talked about, but rarely explained, concept and an explanation of why it's so important.
Career advisers and legal recruiters love to impress upon students the importance of doing detailed research before making vacation scheme and training contract applications. However, where all this information is to be found is not always immediately clear. Read on for some advice on getting started – research really 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 legal recruiters to offer you a job. Law firms don’t want to read generic applications that you have clearly fired off to many potential employers, without fully understanding who they are and what they do.
First, to earn a training contract you must show future employers that you fully understand the firm’s key practice areas (eg, M&A or shipping), what a training contract with them involves, that you are prepared for and up to the challenge, and that you have targeted the firm specifically. Doing this is impossible without having first conducted detailed research into the firm in question.
Second, research is vital in differentiating firms and identifying which type of firm is 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 – all firms have subtle differences to their competitors and you will need to convey an appreciation of the specific firm you are applying to in order to be successful, and ensure that you are making the right choice.
How to get your research started
Now you know why doing this research is so vital, here's how to get underway…
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, training contract application deadline, and areas of specialisation. 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 practice is a place you could imagine training.
Before you begin the next step and leave LCN for the firm's own website, see if its LCN entry contains any additional features such as Commercial Questions, Meet the Lawyer, Vacation Scheme Insider and Meet the Recruiter profiles, and information on recent deals. These will be located in the tabs on the firm's basic entry; a good example is Shoosmiths’ profile, which contains all 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 a picture of the firm’s practice areas, commercial drivers, people and office culture, which should heavily inform your applications if you decide that the firm might be right for you.
If you have an account with LCN, you can store all of 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 avoids the possibility of losing track of what you discover. To find out more about how to use MyLCN, read: “Why more students are choosing MyLCN – your essential training contract companion”.
Find firms' own websites by clicking on the logo on their LCN listing or by doing a web search. This is where the really 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 not to 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 will not be impressed if a candidate quotes facts and figures that are easily available to find online without analysis or reasoning.
Independent material on law firms can be found in publications such as The LawCareers.Net Handbook, Chambers UK Student Guide, Chambers UK Guide, Lex 100 and the Legal 500. These sources will provide you with in-depth insight into firms' areas of expertise; their ranking in different practice areas; recent cases and clients; and quotes from the mouths of clients and trainees. Each of the three publications contain different material, so we recommend using all three in conjunction to get the most rounded picture. The LawCareers.Net Handbook is available to read for free online. To get your hands on a physical copy you need to 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; look for news reports on topics such as recent deals, turnover, retention rates for newly qualified lawyers, trainee deferrals and diversity. Search LCN’s News section, The Lawyer, the Law Gazette, Legal Week, Legal 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 recent commercial issues read LCN’s Feature on 19 commercial awareness issues you should know about at the start of 2021.
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, in particular, is an excellent place to get objective opinions on, and up-to-the minute updates from, firms. Facebook is a good – if not objective – source of information too; most firms have come to realise the power of Facebook in communicating with graduates. However, it's worth bearing in mind that Twitter far outstrips Facebook as a tool for news and communicating with solicitors' firms (and barristers' chambers), as well as the highly active legal commentariat. 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. With Q&As, Instagram Live videos and many firms and students using the platform to share information about the legal world, following these accounts can be a great way to find out more about the profession and employers you hope to join.
For information on how to get the most out of social media, read our social media guide for aspiring lawyers.
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 really 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 are not afraid of being candid about their opinions. Keeping up with the legal bloggers (as well as Twitter) is also a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the profession as a whole – and being informed about current events and issues within the law will certainly help you to make the right decision regarding what firms to apply to. The LCN bloggers also provide insight and advice from law and non-law students, graduates and aspiring solicitors and barristers.
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 that you would like to work. Now is 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 is 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 covers this topic in more detail.
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!