How to research a law firm prior to applying or interview
Prior to attending an interview, or even submitting your application, it is essential to conduct thorough research on the law firm in question. In this blog post, we will discuss the general things you should research prior to taking this significant step in your legal career.
1. The Type and Size of the Firm
When applying to law firms, as will be discussed, it is vital you focus and narrow your approach to ensure you only apply to firms that are a good fit for you and align with your future career goals.
The below runs through the main ‘types’ of firms which you may choose to apply to:
Magic Circle firms: Magic circle firms are the ‘top firms’ in the UK, and include Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Slaughter and May, Allen & Overy and Linklaters. Typically, these firms have a large trainee intake, and are known for their international presence, and for working on complex commercial and high-value transactions for a varied and global client base. Given their international presence, the prospect of an international or client secondment may be greater at these firms. However, given the large cohort size, there is the potential for less responsibility, and more administrative work when you start.
Silver Circle firms: The Silver Circle is a group of UK-based law firms just below the Magic Circle in terms of size and reputation. These firms include Ashurst, HSF, Hogan Lovells, and PRC. Whilst they may not have the same global reach as Magic Circle firms, they are still highly regarded and work on similar deals.
Mid-tier firms: Mid-tier firms are typically smaller than the above, but still offer a wide range of services and work on significant cases and transactions. They may specialise in specific practice areas, such as IP or employment law, and often have a more personalised approach to client service.
Regional firms: Regional law firms operate in specific geographical areas within the UK, rather than having a national or international presence. They often have a strong reputation and client base within their region, and may specialise in specific practice areas i.e. agriculture. Regional firms can offer a good-work life balance and a more affordable cost of living compared to larger firms based in London.
US firms: US law firms have a significant presence in the UK legal market and often work on high-value cross border transactions and deals. They typically have a strong focus on corporate and finance work, and the salaries on offer are often higher than the above. Trainee intakes also tend to be significantly smaller and the teams much leaner meaning there is great potential for more responsibility at an earlier stage in your career.
High-street firms: High-street law firms provide legal services to individuals and small businesses within their local community. They may specialize in areas such as family law, criminal law, immigration, or conveyancing. High-street firms can offer a more personalized approach to client service and a good work-life balance, but salaries and benefits packages may be lower compared to larger firms.
2. Key Practice Areas and Seats
When you initially begin to research and shortlist firms you wish to apply to, it’s a crucial to get to grips with their key practice areas. Identifying the areas of law the firm specialises in and determining if they align with your long-term career goals, interests and experience will help you avoid a scattergun approach to applications, saving you time.
In addition to this, understanding the key practice areas is essential in interviews – when asked why you want to train at the firm in question specifically, as mentioned above, you can link them to your long-term career goals and what seats you would potentially be interested in. Most training contracts involve four six-month seat rotations, however certain firms such as Crowell and Jones Day offer non-rotational training contracts. Additionally, some firms, whilst having practices that cover certain or maybe niche areas of law, do not offer seats in them. If you apply to a firm on this basis, but it is a dealbreaker for you, research can help you avoid wasting your time. However, in saying this, whilst the firm may not offer an outright ‘seat’ in that practice, practices often cover a range of work, meaning despite this you may be able to work on transactions in that area anyway. Information of this nature regarding most law firms is usually available on their website, but you can go one step further and review their recent deals/transactions or cases to get an idea of their work too. Chambers Guide also have posted an extremely helpful spreadsheet on the seats each firm offers, which is linked.
Another important factor to look into revolves around the clients the firm works with. Law firms work with a variety of clients, spanning various sectors and industries. High-profile firms tend to have high-profile clients, who are often household names; for instance, HSF, Davis Polk and Eversheds advised on the Made.com collapse, and Sidley Austin advised on the Soho House flotation. Certain firms may also have repeat clients, such as private equity firms who they represent on a repeat basis. If you wish to work with clients of this nature, applying to city law firms over regional firms is probably a better idea. The Financial Times is a good source for this information, but also the firm’s own website. In tandem with this, certain firms may offer client secondments; if you are interested in a particular sector the firm is known for working in, research can allow you to ascertain if there is the potential for this.
4. Offices and Global Presence
Law firms often have multiple offices in different locations, either nationally or globally depending on the type of firm you have applied to/are interviewing with. The location of the firm’s offices can significantly impact the work you will be doing, and the opportunities available to you, especially if you are interested in international secondments of travel during your training contract. For instance, a firm with a global presence may work on a lot of cross-jurisdictional deals/transactions and work with clients from a variety of sectors. if this is something that interests you, a city-based law firm is probably for you. Alternatively, if you have strong ties to a certain region, and wish to remain there yet pursue a career in law, a regional firm may be ideal. Regarding the potential for international secondments, whilst some firms may have a global presence, they may not offer these. However, certain firms do; White and Case, for instance, are the only firm that guarantee an overseas seat, in which locations up for grabs include Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Hong King, New York and Tokyo to name a few. In terms of researching the above, the firms website is a great place to start.
5. Rankings and Awards
When researching a firm, it is a good idea to look at its rankings and whether it has received any awards for its work in the past year or two. Chambers Guide and the Legal 500 are great for this, and cover a multitude of firms from regional and niche firms, all the way up to the Magic Circle.
6. Culture, D&I and Pro Bono
The culture of a law firm should be an incredibly important factor when deciding whether to apply. The firms website is a great source when it comes to this but also Chambers Guide and Legal Cheek. For instance, you can research whether the firm has any D&I initiatives, such as involvement with organisations such as SEO or PRIME, or their commitment to pro bono work, and whether there is the scope to get involved as a trainee. The firm may also have internal committees you are interested in, such as women committees. Thorough research into this can demonstrate that you have gone the extra step and would want to fully embed yourself in everything the firm offers if you were to train there.
Whilst the above is non-exhaustive, hopefully it points you to some of the core things you should research when interviewing and applying. It is a daunting and often time-consuming process, so narrowing your focus is key. Good luck!