A how-to guide to researching law firms

Researching a law firm in some depth 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.

Careers advisers and legal recruiters love to impress upon students the importance of doing detailed research before making 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.

First, to earn a training contract you need to 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 of them are right for you. 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.

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 basic entry, which contains an overview of the practice and its vital statics; 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 LawCareers.Net for the firm's own website, see if its LawCareers.Net entry contains any additional features such as Burning QuestionsMeet the Lawyer, Featured Lawyer 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 Burning 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.

You can also create a MyLCN account and store all the information you need online. The web tool will dramatically reduce the time your research takes and avoids the possibility of losing track of what you discover.

Firm websites

Find firms' own websites by clicking on the logo on their LawCareers.Net 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.

Legal directories

Independent material on law firms can be found in publications such as The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook (TCPH)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 contains different material, so we recommend using all three in conjunction to get the most rounded picture. The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook is available free from law fairs and university careers services (as is Chambers UK Student Guide), and both Chambers UK Guide and the Legal 500 are 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 LawCareers.Net'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 this Feature, "Are you commercially aware?".

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, 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 and consequently have their own listing. However, it's worth bearing in mind that, partly due to Facebook's design focus on socialising and personal relationships, Twitter far outstrips Facebook as a professional tool for receiving current information as well as communicating with and participating in the online legal community.

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 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 and law journalists. 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 make the right decision regarding what firms to apply to. LCN also runs a Blog section containing insights and advice from practicing lawyers, students, aspiring solicitors and barristers.

Face time

So far our tips have all been web based. However, good old-fashioned face time is one of the most important stages of good research. 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 contact with law firms' representatives, such as 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 getting the most from law fairs and firm presentations, while here is just one of the useful posts on networking from our Blog section.

Conclusion

Well that's, in a nutshell, the why and the how of law firm research. If you follow each step outlined above and use MyLCN to keep track of the data you unearth, you'll have all the info you need to make that winning application. All that's left now is to get digging!

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