“Why did you apply to this firm?” is a typical interview question. If they are going to invest in you, law firms want to be sure you know what you’re signing up to. But distinguishing one firm from another when you’ve never been there can be tricky. So how do you find out about a law firm?
Before you start researching firms, it’s worth being honest with yourself about what you want from them.
What will make you happy?
1. What sort of culture are you looking for?
- Size. Do you want a large city firm? Truly international practice or UK aspects of international work? Would you prefer a smaller firm where client contact is likely to come earlier? Or one that focusses on a niche area? Do you want to work at an innovative firm? What do you think of when you imagine your ideal workplace?
- Work. Think about what attracts you to that sort of workplace. Who do they work for why does that appeal? Do you like the idea of working in-house? In the public sector? Think about what appeals about these employers. These answers could help you explain why you have chosen a career in law and that employer in particular.
- Location. Be honest with yourself about where you want to work. If you love the idea of London, go for it. But you may prefer a smaller city. The big salaries tend to be in city firms, but the regional firms may provide more variety of experience.
2. What area of law do you want to practise?
- Keep an open mind. It’s difficult to know what a practice area is really like until you try it. You should keep an open mind, while at the same time thinking about why you want to do corporate-type work, or work for private clients. Work experience that demonstrates an interest in business and problem solving, even on a modest scale, will help prove your interest.
- Think about sectors. For example, are you interested in science, technology, banking, government work or human rights? Lawyers advising clients in those sectors must keep up with the latest developments. Show your interest in a firm which focuses on a particular sector by being prepared to talk about why that sector interests you.
Finding out about firms
1. Legal careers websites.
There are lots of great sites around, some with interviews with lawyers working in those firms or chambers, giving an insight into what it’s like to work there. Check out All About Law, Lawyer 2B, Lawcareers.net, Legal Cheek, Chambers Student. Check out the Working in law page on Practical Law’s Law school resource centre for videos and advice.
2. Social media
- Some firms have a good social media presence. You can find out about student events they are running or attending.
- Check out Twitter and Linked In, for information from firms and about the legal market to help you talk about challenges facing the profession.
3. Legal press
The Law Society Gazette, Legal Week and The Lawyer are great sources of legal news. Does the firm comment on key news stories? How is it seen in the market? (Check out its practice area rankings on Chambers & Partners or the Legal 500.)
4. Firms’ websites
- These only tell you so much, but good ones should at least communicate something about how the firm wants to be seen, and how it sees itself as different from the competition. Do you like their message? What inspires you about it?
- You should also find details of their latest transactions and their take on issues affecting their clients, such as Brexit. Sign up to email alerts. Does this look like the sort of thing you’d be interested in knowing more about? What sort of questions might you have about their work? (Check out Westlaw or Bailli for details of their recent cases. For large city firms, check out What’s Market on Practical Law for information on the latest deals.)
- Who is interviewing you? If you have a name, check out whether they have written any articles in case you get a chance to discuss them or ask a question about it at the interview. (Check out Practical Law and Westlaw for detailed legal analysis.) Remember, interviewers are looking for enthusiasm and interest in the work. Show you have that by being able to explain why that firm is right for you.
Application and interview prep
1. Careers fairs and other events – meet prospective employers
Making a good impression face to face is likely to bump your application up the pile. You may also get the chance to speak to current trainees and find out what it’s really like at the firm.
2. Feedback from interviews other students have had
Some law schools collect information on other candidates’ experiences of interviews or placements. Check these out in case you can get any valuable tips.