Doing the right research when applying to law firms is the first, and arguably the most crucial, step in the application process. This article will discuss the importance of research and how to go about doing it the right way.
The importance of research
Understand the legal market
You might be surprised to hear that there are over 1000 organisations in the UK that offer training contracts. These include international commercial firms (e.g. magic circle, silver circle and American firms), local, regional and boutique firms as well as other alternative business structures (e.g. Deloitte). This makes it difficult for aspiring lawyers to identify which firms to apply to, as even amongst the same tier of firms, there are key differences that distinguishes one organisation from another. Therefore, it’s essential to spend time identifying the right firms for you.
Become a more competitive applicant
Additionally, getting a training contract can be a very tough and competitive process, simply because the number of applicants outweigh the training contract positions available. To stand out, you need to show recruiters that you will be a great asset to their firm by linking your research of the firm to your own interests and experiences in your application.
How to know which firms are right for you
There are many factors that can help you pick between different firms. If you’re interested in working at a law firm that has an international reach, where your work will involve transactions in different jurisdictions, then applying to big international firms is the most suitable choice. On the other hand, if you prefer working at local, regional or boutique firms with certain specialties then it makes sense to only apply to those. Working at smaller firms often means you get more responsibility early on in your career and get more exposure to senior members when working with clients.
Choosing which firm to apply to will come down to certain considerations like ethos and culture, practice areas, sectors, geographical reach, number of trainees per intake, secondment opportunities, salary and training contract structure. Some of these might be more important to you than others, so make sure you pick the firms that are right for you.
Researching law firms is a multi-layered process. Starting your research with Chambers Students, LawCareers.Net and Legal Cheek is a great idea, as it will give you foundational insights into different firms.
After identifying the firms you want to learn more about, you can head to their website, which will show you their practice areas, the calibre of candidates they are looking for, their recent deals/news as well as videos highlighting their people’s experiences. Legal 500 is also a great source to learn more about law firms’ work, as it ranks firms’ practice areas and gives you a real idea of where their strengths lie.
Engaging with a firm’s presence on social media by following them on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, listening to their podcasts and reading about their recent deals is also a great way of staying up to date with your research and enhancing your understanding of law firms.
While websites and social media are invaluable, your research shouldn’t stop there. There are lots of cross over between firms, and sometimes it’s difficult to identify the differences between them. This is why you need to take your research further by attending in-person or virtual events (e.g. open days, workshops, career dinners and on-campus presentations). This is a great way to form a better understanding of law firms’ work and culture as well as build a rapport with the firms you’re interested in, which will help you stand out from the pool of applicants.
What should your research include
There are many things to research about a firm when applying for vacation schemes and training contracts. Here are a few:
- Practice areas: familiarise yourself with the main practice areas at the firm. Then pick certain departments you are most interested in and do some in-depth research around the work in that department.
- International presence and opportunities: research where the firm operates internationally as well as the availability of secondment opportunities during and after your training contract.
- Training contract structure: each firm has a unique training contract structure and requirements. Some seats are compulsory and others are optional. Some firms offer 4 seats, others offer 8. So, make sure you understand the training contract structure as well as the unique opportunities offered at the firm as part of their training contract.
- Culture: understanding the culture of a firm by interacting with its people will really help you work out whether it’s the right firm for you and will show the firm how interested you are in them.
- Clients: knowing the firm’s clients is an essential way of building your understanding of the kind of work your firm does and the type of business organisations you will be representing during your training contract.
- Recent deals: reading up on the firm’s recent deals and doing some in-depth research on some of the deals you find most interesting will showcase your interest in the firm. It will also help you make valuable links when doing a case study during an interview. When researching the firm’s deals, make sure you understand your firm’s contribution to the deal, what the deal means for the industry, why the deal took place in the first place as well as who represented the party on the other side of the transaction.
- Initiatives: research some of the initiatives the firm offers that you might be interested in contributing to (e.g. pro bono opportunities and societies you can join at the firm).
- Size of trainee intake: some firms take up to 100 trainees, others take on 10-15. The size of your trainee intake influences your training contract experience. If it’s a big cohort, then you will have access to a larger network. If it’s a smaller cohort, then you will more likely get more responsibility early on in your career.
- Nature of training: some firms have lots of formal training events whereas others take a more ‘learn on the job’ approach. Understanding the nature of the training will help you articulate the reasons you’re attracted to the training contract at the firm.
Don’t forget to store all your research in one place and continue to update it. You can either type your research into a document or create handwritten notes and diagrams. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure your notes are organised and easily accessible for when you need to use them.
Incorporating your research in your application
Each applicant has a unique style of writing, so it’s up to you to decide how you wish to incorporate your research into your application. However, graduate recruiters read thousands of applications per season, so the best way to stand out in your application is by keeping it personal. Therefore, avoid repeating facts about the firm the recruiters already know about. Instead, find a way to link your personal qualities and experiences to the firm. For instance, if you are at a networking event, and a representative tells you about the inclusive and diverse culture at the firm, you can mention how that conversation resonated with you because you value diversity and inclusion (D&I) and would thrive in that kind of environment. You can take this further by telling the firm about your commitment to D&I by providing an example from your personal experience. This shows the recruiter the kind of person you are and how you would be a great fit to their firm.