Law firm research is crucial. You could be doing this because of an interview, potential career prospects or because you’re meeting someone from a firm at an open day. Not knowing at least the basics about a firm will make you look worse than a barrister who arrived in court without pants on.
The research doesn’t take too long either and can look really impressive if you do it right. There’s so much information available on the internet; it’s like having your own private investigator. Depending on whether you’re doing big research (for interview preparation or because you’re thinking of hiring the firm) or little research (for an informal meeting) you can do all, or a few, of the following:
1. Social media
Did you know social media isn’t just for posting pictures of your friends vomiting? It really is. Before you leave the site in disgust let me give evidence for this admittedly far fetched remark. Using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn you can really get a good insight into what is currently on the mind of the firm. Where are they looking in terms of promotion and marketing? What services are they pushing at the moment?
Let me give you an example. Years in the future Space Law will probably exist right? Now let’s say this isn’t a big legal area, not taught at Uni, but you see a Facebook post by a firm sharing a new piece of legislation. It points out a small section of a new Act to do with Asteroid mining. You then see a tweet about a job opening for someone who knows about “Non earth based mining”. Space law is obviously a key issue for the firm. Now if you get an interview at the firm during the process you can say something like “Oh and I definitely think Space Law is a great area to expand into right now.” They will be impressed with the forward thinking you show. Just don’t go too far and turn into some weird law firm stalker.
2. The homepage
The site of the firm is an important source of information for research. But it’s the bare minimum you should do. Just browsing the site of a firm is OK if you just want to know the basics before an informal meeting, but for employment it’s not enough. You’re just telling them things about themselves they already know. It will be much more impressive if you tell them something that wasn’t on the site.
Also the firm won’t say anything bad or critical about themselves on the site. So you may not get a balanced view. Therefore you should just use the home page of a firm to start off your research. Just use it to understand which areas of law they specialise in and maybe a little bit about their history.
3. News & press releases
If a firm submits a Press Release, or gets put in Google news you can be sure it’s going to be important. They’re not going to be telling you they just got a new coffee machine on floor 2. Much of the time they will be mentioning their expansion into a new legal area. So you can combine this with the social media point above to get more detail.
So using the first example you could check Google news or PRweb for any recent news on the firm in regards to Space Law. This press release or news would go into more detail than social media. Eventually it would be picked up by legal news websites too. Imagine how awesome you would look if you got there first. Using this method you can also try and spot patterns in the press releases. Maybe it’s mentioned that they have invested in a company which “aims to build a large Death Star moon base”. You can be sure the firm are really putting everything they have into Space Law. Tailoring your whole CV and application to Space Law is now obviously a great idea.
4. Google & search
You can undertake further research by simply using Google. You could search for the exact firm name like this – “Firm Name” (with quotes) to get some great new results. You can also narrow the results down to recent events by looking to the left of the page, clicking on more search tools, and then clicking past month. This will give you a range of interesting news articles, blog entries and forum posts. If you type in -site:lawfirm.co.uk this will remove any results from the home page of the firm. So the full Google query could look like – “Firm Name” -site:lawfirm.co.uk
If you have access to WestLaw or Nexis (or http://www.bailii.org if you want a great free version) you can also try searching for the firm there to see what sort of cases they have recently been involved with. If you can follow a firm in this much depth it’s going to be very impressive. Especially if they ask a “what can you tell me about [Firm]” question. Even if they don’t you can usually slip it into the interview. Just make sure it’s at least semi relevant to the current topic of conversation. Don’t just blurt it out when they’re asking about your work experience… unless you’re a segue master that is.
5. Firm research sites
The Legal 500 and Chambers Student Guide are two amazing resources. Chambers Student Guide gives some incredibly detailed information on certain firms. Firms supply a list of their trainees to Chambers who then randomly select several individuals to interview. Everything is confidential; the firms don’t know which trainees have provided an interview. They don’t see the interview before it’s published either so trainees really can speak freely. The Legal 500 is good for students but also individuals undertaking more professional research. It has a full overview, lawyer profiles and even a collection of press releases for many firms. Obviously these sites only feature medium – large firms.
We would recommend going through this full list for your training contract interview.