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How to research law firms: a checklist

In order to stand out from other graduates who want to become solicitors, do a thorough job of researching law firms and tailor your training contract applications to each organisation.
'Read about the firm and mention the key things that attract you to it – it shows that you really are interested in us.'

You will need to do your research into law firms to succeed at interviews and assessment centres during the training contract recruitment process. We give you a handy list to use when researching each firm below. Most of the information can be found in a firm’s employer hub or in their Inside Buzz report – an invaluable survey of their current trainee solicitors. ‘Someone who has done their research on the firm and their career path stands out,’ explains the graduate recruitment and development manager at Mayer Brown. ‘We receive lots of generic applications from applicants who have sent blanket applications to, say, 40 City law firms, whereas I’m looking for evidence that the applicant has gone the extra mile to find out about the firm and what we do. Read about the firm and mention the key things that attract you to it – it shows that you really are interested in us.’

The law firm's background information

For the law firms that interest you, find out:

  • What areas of legal practice they cover
  • Which of those areas of law it is strongest in/known for
  • Who its clients are
  • Where its offices are
  • Who its main competitors are
  • The firm’s history and defining moments – has it merged over the years?
  • Number of partners and fee-earners
  • The diversity of its legal staff – how many of its partners are female or from an ethnic minority background
  • How, where and why it is growing
  • Big news from the last year to two years – any noteworthy cases or transactions, new offices, new clients, effects on the economy, any mergers with other law firms
  • What it offers that’s unique compared to its competitors
  • What is the culture of the firm – the Inside Buzz reports are invaluable here

The firm’s training contract structure and offering

Find out:

  • How many trainee solicitors the firm takes on each year
  • If it offers a structured four-seat rotation training contract (most firms do) or a non-rotational system such as that used at Jones Day
  • Whether it offers secondments to clients or to its overseas offices during the training contract
  • What university degree background and qualifications are required – does it have a minimum A level requirement?
  • If it will sponsor you through the legal practice course (LPC ) – and conversion course (GDL or CPE), if relevant
  • What competencies and specific skills are needed
  • What does the recruitment process involve – type of application, assessment centres, types of interviews
  • Contact details for applying
  • The training contract or vacation scheme application deadline
  • How does its trainee starting salary and pay on qualification compare to other law firms
  • Whether it offers any perks or benefits, eg gym membership, pension, bike to work scheme, retail vouchers
  • Whether trainees are given the chance to do pro bono or corporate social responsibility (CSR) work, such as volunteering at a legal centre or reading with local school children
  • What you can about the partners who’ll be interviewing you from the firm’s website or their LinkedIn profile: what area of law do they specialise in, did they train at the firm?
  • About its retention rates after qualification

The law firm’s culture and appeal

You need to:

  • Find out about the firm’s ‘core values’ and aims
  • Investigate the firm’s reputation
  • Think about how the firm likes to see itself – how does it portray itself on social media?
  • Find out if socialising among staff is encouraged, eg Friday night drinks, netball or five-a-side football teams
  • Think about how you view the organisation – what attracts you to the firm?
  • Ask yourself why working for the firm appeals
  • If you have done a vac scheme or open day at the firm, sum up what struck you about its culture, work, clients, training

Some examples of how TARGETjobs Inside Buzz can help you to research a firm's culture

The Inside Buzz on Osborne Clarke (9.8 out of 10 for culture)

‘There is little sense of hierarchy. The international CEO regularly turns up to play cricket with the juniors in the summer.’

Second-year trainee at Osborne Clarke

The Inside Buzz on Bristows (9.5 out of 10 for culture)

‘As there are no billing targets, lawyers work together to provide the best service possible rather than fighting over who gets the work. In interviews, the partners are very keen to see that future trainees have hobbies and a life. Trainees organise socials both within their year group and with the other intake. It’s not unusual to find the trainees together in Heaven or having a raclette evening at someone’s home.’

Second-year trainee at Bristows

The Inside Buzz on Baker McKenzie (9.3 out of 10 for culture)

‘The trainees are all good friends. It’s a very sociable firm with happy employees.’

Second-year trainee at Baker McKenzie

The Inside Buzz on Burges Salmon (9.2 out of 10 for culture)

‘The firm has a strong sense of culture. Various events are held in the office or they get pop-ups, such as the local doughnut shop, coming in once a month for treats as well as the cake trolley on Fridays. There are some evening socials and some departments are more social than others.’

Second-year trainee at Burges Salmon

The Inside Buzz on Travers Smith (9 out of 10 for culture)

‘Culture is the best thing about the firm. There’s a genuinely relaxed, open and approachable culture underpinned by our lack of billable hours targets and large room-sharing system that breaks down hierarchy. We have also introduced a new firm-wide music programme called SoundSmith, where all staff are able to organise music lessons during the day, and there are a number of music recitals (usually held on Friday lunchtimes) where we invite professional musicians to perform.’

Second-year trainee at Travers Smith

The Inside Buzz on Mills & Reeve (9 out of 10 for culture)

‘There is clearly a very friendly and united culture within the firm and people are very much treated as equals. The firm frequently hosts different events such as quizzes, BBQs, challenges, tea and cake, and other firm-wide staff briefings to keep everyone informed of progress and news. Having a pub in the car park is handy for socialising with colleagues after work as well!’

First-year trainee at Mills & Reeve

The Inside Buzz on Taylor Wessing (9 out of 10 for culture)

‘I worked in a number of City firms prior to starting my training contract, yet the culture at Taylor Wessing stands alone. Regular social events are organised to allow juniors to mingle and develop relationships with partners and senior counsel. Both official and ad-hoc trainee events are organised almost weekly and a real camaraderie between trainees is fostered early on. I enjoy coming into work to see my colleagues and friends.’

First-year trainee at Taylor Wessing

The Inside Buzz on Pinsent Masons

‘In general, I find that the teams are friendly, open and willing to improve. For example, the entire trainee training system in my team has been revamped on the back of trainee feedback. It’s widely felt that the people in charge will listen and make changes if you’re unhappy.’

Second-year trainee at Pinsent Masons

How to use the Inside Buzz survey answers from trainee solicitors

Above is just a sample of feedback we’ve had from current trainees. Carry on your vac scheme research by reading the views of trainees at the other 39 firms we surveyed in 2017.