How to Research a Commercial Law Firm - which one is right for you?

By Shreya Sharma

As a current non-law student trying to break into a notoriously competitive industry (as well as being a self-confessed procrastinator), finding a way to start research is difficult. Whether it is deciding to go into law in the first place or choosing where to apply for a training contract, your ability to make big decisions will undoubtedly shape your career. Given the current Covid-19 pandemic, going to insight days, getting physical work experience, or even

getting a feel of the city is near impossible. The way in which students have to do their vetting is changing, so here are some suggestions to help you discover your ideal firm:

Don’t underestimate a personality quiz

It might sound like a joke, but easing yourself into the process might be just what you need. Taking 5 minutes to think about your own characteristics and how they link to the values of a firm is very important. It’s easy to overlook yourself in the research process as you drown under papers of FTSE reports

and updates about Clifford Chance’s new swimming pool! Ultimately, researching law firms will feel less soul-crushing if you align your values with those of the firm.

My advice would be to start by giving yourself a moment to write down characteristics that are important to you. These could be location, diversity, corporate social responsibility, or the types of clients a firm attracts. This is a strong place to start as it will help to make your research more personal and will let you weed out early on the firms and lifestyles that don’t suit you; you might find that a certain firm is perfect for you, but the London lifestyle isn’t. If you are stuck for inspiration, The Lawyer Portal has a page and quiz to help kick off research by considering the types of questions to ask yourself.

Critically analyse the website

I’m sure that you all know to start with the firm’s website - that much is usually obvious! Yet, whenever I tried to start, I would get overwhelmed, bored, or often just lazy and indifferent. What helped me was changing my perspective. Instead of looking at the website and thinking about how competitive and high-calibre it

was, I valued myself more. I reminded myself that in reality, these firms need sharp and committed students like us! The process of researching firms is our opportunity to do the vetting and to be picky, so don’t be afraid to be critical!

When you look at the website, try not to take anything at face value - really analyse it! It’s no secret that all firms fancy themselves ‘exceptional’ and ‘innovative’, but what aspect of their work makes you agree? Is the language they employ particularly traditional, or do they pitch themselves as an adventurous community? By evaluating the website instead of only writing facts on their clients and global reach, you can consider where you fit in and how you can be an asset as a potential trainee.

Speak to lawyers

Network, network, network. Often research means sitting with a hunched back at your desk until your eyes water because it’s 3am and you’re still on your laptop. But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we all miss a bit of human interaction and conversation. Networking in this time has definitely changed, but for some people it might be less daunting. My advice for networking at home is to just bite the bullet and start!

Approaching solicitors and barristers on LinkedIn is a popular way to ensure that graduate employers in the firm are familiar with your name and face. Honestly, there will be lots of messages that won’t get a response, but just the tenacity and initiative to send a connection request is a start. My advice is to reach out to future or current trainees to learn about commercial law firms; they will be more likely to offer support or answer questions, and it is good practice for building strong relationships. Useful questions to ask might be:

  • What made you settle on that firm?

  • Is there anything that you think the firm could improve on, especially since Covid-19?

  • What was important to you when you were researching the law firm?

  • How did you stay motivated, and how does the firm support you in your challenges as a trainee?

  • If there was anything you would have changed when you were choosing firms, what would it be?

Being able to engage with people on a similar level to you means your research into the firm can be thorough, personal and not as boring as online Google searches!


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