The WTL

Research Checklist

A law firm's values

What are 'values'?

A law firm's values are the fundamental beliefs upon which the business and culture of the firm are based. The values act as a framework to manage both the internal (i.e. employees) and external (i.e. clients) relationships of the firm. The values describe the firm's character and personality. 

Where to find it? 

The values of a firm can be found in the "about us" section of a law firm's website. 

Why is this important and how does it help you? 

You should always have the firm's values at the forefront of your mind when answering any question in your application. After all, the values underpin the purpose of the firm so it's good to appreciate this when explaining why you're a good fit for them. It may be worthwhile comparing your personal attributes against the firm's values and explaining the similarities between the firm's values and your own values (relevant when answering the 'why this firm' question!). 

Areas of practice 

What are 'areas of practice'?

A firm's practice areas are the areas of law that it specialises in i.e. corporate, commercial, employment, property etc. The practice areas dictate the type of work the firm will do. 

Where to find it? 

The firm's practice areas will be on the firm's website under the heading 'services' or 'practice areas' (or something to that effect!). 

Why is this important and how does it help you? 

Well.. you know you want to be a lawyer right? But.. why is that? There must be an area of law that appeals to you for you to be certain a career in law is for you... you may not necessarily know the exact specialism but you'll have some idea of whether you want to be a private client lawyer or commercial lawyer for example. 

TIP: if you're not quite sure what you want to do, check out our 'What do lawyers do?!' portal (here). We've set out lots of different areas of legal practice to help you narrow down which areas appeal to you. 

You need to check that the law firms you're applying to actually do the areas of law you're interested in. There's not much point spending hours/days on an application to Eversheds Sutherland when your true passion lies in criminal law!

TIP: if you know what area of law you're interested in but struggling to find firms that offer it, why not complete our Shortlist Generator and receive a bespoke shortlist of 10 law firms that you can apply to based on your individual requirements?! Click me

As some of the larger law firms have lots and lots of practice areas, it will be difficult to research every single practice area. Our advice is to focus on the practice areas you're actually interested in and don't worry too much about the rest. 

Things to think about:

1. Who are the firm's clients in this area? 

2. How big is that practice area comparative to the rest of the firm? 

3, Any noteworthy cases that the firm has been involved in?

4. How is the firm ranked in those practice areas? 

Example: 

If you were interested in the real estate practice area and was specifically interested in applying to Gowling WLG then you could go on to Gowling WLG's website and select 'services' and then 'real estate'. This will take you to the real estate practice area of the firm. Once you're there you could scroll down and see that there are two sections called 'insights & resources' and 'latest news'. 

The 'latest news' section will tell you about cases that the firm has worked on within the real estate sector. This will help you paint a picture of the type of work that the firm does and what it is up to in this area that's worth bragging about. It will also help you work out what clients it has in this area. You can then link this to what is going on in this practice area more generally by looking at relevant news stories on your chosen news platform (i.e. Financial Times, BBC News etc). 

 

 

To take your research a bit further (specifically, to explore points 2 and 4 above), you could research and include any awards and recognitions the firm has had for this particular practice area.

 

Key places to look for this: 

  • the firm's website (check their news pages or the about us page). 

  • the firm's social media pages. 

  • the Legal 500 (you can search a law firm's profile which will tell you how each practice area has been rated by the Legal 500. The ratings will be a tier so Tier 1, Tier 2 etc. Tier 1 is the highest. This will help you work out how big a practice area is for a firm. Also, the Legal 500 profile of a firm will tell you who is considered a key player in that specific team at the firm, what the key clients are for the firm and what clients/others have said about the firm in that area of law).

  • Chambers and Partners (again, another rating system. The key firms all have profiles on chambers.com so you can search by law firm and you'll find a firm profile, what it's known for, what areas of practice it specialises in, what departments are ranked by Chambers (so Band 1, Band 2 etc - Band 1 is the highest), ranked individuals and the offices (i.e. locations). This is also a great platform to help you work out who the competitors are for that firm (i.e. which other firms have been ranked for that area of law)).

How to add this knowledge into applications? 

This knowledge will fit into the 'why this firm' or 'why this area of law' question that you tend to get in applications. Also, you'll undoubtedly get a commercial awareness question and this knowledge can also be well utilised there too. If you pick a news story that you're genuinely interested in and one that fits within a practice area of the firm, this will reinforce your interest in practising at that firm. You could even add to your answer by referencing similar cases the firm has worked on which relate to that news item and explain the impact of this all on clients (i.e. how this news item will generate more work for the firm). 

Sectors & Presence

What are 'sectors'?

A sector is a service industry (i.e. the industry in which a client operates). Examples of sectors include energy, fashion, public, media and entertainment, retail and automotive.

A law firm's sectors will dictate which clients they will take on and will determine the sector specialism the firm offers to its clients. 

Example: 

If BooHoo was a law firm's client, they would fall within the 'fashion' sector but will rely on a variety of practice areas such as:

  • corporate: if they ever wanted to merge or restructure their business

  • commercial: to agree contracts with customers and suppliers

  • employment: to deal with any legal issues in relation to their employees 

DMH Stallard has a fashion sector so they will take on a client like BooHoo but Anthony Collins Solicitors does not have a fashion sector (or any related sector such as retail) so that means BooHoo would not fit within their values or purpose as a law firm and they are therefore unlikely to take on BooHoo as a client. 

The benefits to BooHoo of working with a firm that has a fashion sector: 

  • the law firm understands their business and will therefore provide the most relevant and appropriate strategic advice. If the firm has a fashion sector it means they have lots of fashion related clients so will know what's going on in the market and what the key issues are. This all plays into the notion of being 'commercially aware' i.e. understanding the market of your client. 

Where to find it? 

The firm's sectors will be on the firm's website under the heading 'sectors'. Some firms may not have sectors so don't worry if that is the case!

To work out which sector has the strongest presence at the firm... 

Chambers.com and the Legal 500 tend to rank firms based on legal practice areas and sectors so you can always do a search on either of these platforms. The above comments under 'practice area' all apply here too!

Locations

Finding a firm's location is pretty easy - just look on the firm's website

Knowing the geographical spread of the firm will help you expand your knowledge of the firm and see how big it is and where a lot of its clients are based. You can always take your research a step further by comparing the firm's ratings on chambers.com and Legal 500 in these locations. For example - if you search by law firm, it'll list out the firm's ranked departments by location. This will help you work out the firm's presence in those locations. 

Also, it's important to know the international footprint of the firm. Does the firm have offices in other countries and if so, how strong is their presence in other countries? Does the firm pride itself on being an 'international' law firm?

Growth areas / priorities

Make sure you understand what the firm is currently looking to improve or grow over the next few years. Generally, most firms are looking to invest and prioritise technology but there are likely to be other key growth areas for the firm. 

 

Check out the firm’s annual report or see if there is a publicly available statement from the firm’s chairman (try a google search!) as these will almost definitely tell you what the firm has and will prioritise. The priorities will generally link back to the firm’s values. 

 

Example – Allen & Overy’s annual report talks about its continuing investment in innovation in legal service delivery and then refers to technologies and resourcing models it has launched. 

Why is this important? 

  • Understanding the firm’s growth areas or priorities will help you articulate why you want to work there and also find appropriate topics to include in your applications and provide you with talking points on the day of your assessment / interview.

  • Also, having a general understanding of one firm’s growth areas/priorities may help you with other applications. You may often get the question ‘what should our priorities be?’ ‘how can we win more work in this market’ ‘what advice would you give to our senior partner’ – random things like this. Understanding what’s important to other firms will help you work out what is a potential threat and/or opportunity to a competitor firm. 

Tips on how to navigate this: 

The easiest way to understand this is that there are 'universal' growth areas / threats to law firms (i.e. factors that will be or are an issue for all law firms) and law firm specific growth areas

Examples of universal type factors: 

  • Covid-19

  • Brexit

  • Impact of Artificial Intelligence 

  • Climate change

  • Diversity and Inclusion

  • The SQE

  • Alternative law firms i.e. self employed lawyers, the big 4, alternative business structures 

There are others but essentially, the above issues are general trends that impact law firms. No matter the size or type of law firm, the above issues will play into the firm's business plan for the next 5 years. 

Then we have law firm specific growth areas (and/or threats). To analyse these you will need to review the law firm more closely as a business - who are its clients and what sectors does it operate within? This will help you work out what is a priority for the firm from a legal service offering perspective. 

For example, if you are looking at a law firm with a strong housing sector you would research the current issues impacting the housing sector generally and how this will lead to more or less work for the law firm. How can the firm adapt to these issues? 

Big news

Knowing what a firm is up to, for the purpose of drafting applications, comes into play in two key questions: 

 

  1. "Why our firm"

  2. "What news stories are you interested in and why" (this could be firm specific i.e. 'a case we've done that's interested you' or a general news item that interests you)

 

These two questions are bound to be on the applications in one form or another. 

 

Firm based news story:

Try to avoid going for a generic news stories that you’ve found on the firm's website and just describing that case. Link the case back to you and your interest in the firm. 

Tips: the case is likely to be within a specific sector of the firm such as energy, retail, fashion etc. Read around that sector in the news. What is happening? This should help you add a bit of meat to your response as you can talk about the impact of the case you've chosen to the wider sector and the firm's clients.  

 

Example: if you were applying to Gowling WLG and were interested in their retail sector, you can see from their website that their real estate team recently acted on the delivery of London’s largest Premier Inn Hotel. You could then discuss the bigger picture of this transaction i.e. increase in jobs for the local community, promoting tourism for the area etc against what's actually happening in the retail sector at the moment. 

Picking a non-firm related news story: 

 

Make sure you’ve done your research and understand the personality/culture of the firm and its position in the market before picking your news story. 

 

Your chosen news story needs to demonstrate that you understand the firm.

 

Now, you'll often receive mixed advice on whether you should pick a news story that you're genuinely interested in or one that fits within the firm's practice areas and/or is heavily linked to the firm. Hopefully, a news story that you're genuinely interested in also relates to the firm you're applying for (i.e. if you have a genuine passion for life as a commercial lawyer than news stories in commercial law will probably trigger your interest more than a recent family law case). However, if this is not the case and your chosen news story does not fit into the firm's practice areas or sectors than be prepared to answer tricky questions in the interview about why you're applying to the firm. 

Essentially, try and pick a news story that fits into one of the firm’s practice areas that actually represents the firm and its legal offering. The easiest way to do this is to think about why you're actually applying to the firm. What practice area is the firm really well known for that appeals to you? See what's happening in the news in that sector. 

 

You can then talk about that news event, why it’s important to you and what it means for the industry and what the firm can/does do to help with the issues you’ve identified (think in the context of how these issues impact the firm’s clients)

 

In any event, whichever news story you pick, your response should demonstrate your ability to analyse information and communicate effectively in writing. Treat your response as an essay or exam - it is effectively your first test at the firm!

USP - Unique Selling Point!

USP is very important! Why is the firm different? 

 

Law firms tend to use the same generic language when describing themselves … you’ll see lots of ‘innovative’ ‘collaborative’ and ‘client driven’ – but what truly makes the firm you’ve shortlisted stand out from the crowd? Just FYI - there are literally no two firms that are the same. If you are researching firms and think two firms sound exactly the same, you're not researching properly. Every firm has a different USP!

 

Example:

 

Browne Jacobson – a national law firm with a strong presence in both the public and private sector. Cost effective and great client service. Leader in public law practice, education and healthcare. Nice place to work. 

 

(Check out chambers.com for this type of information. The section titled ‘firm’s profile’ will paint a picture of what the firm prides itself on and also check out ‘true picture’ on chambersstudent.co.uk). 

Firm wide culture

When drafting applications, no matter what the question, always have the firm’s culture in the back of your mind

 

The firm’s culture tends to be driven by its values (see point 1 of the checklist).

 

Once you know the firm’s values, you need to think about how this translates into internal (i.e. employees) and external (i.e. clients) behaviour. 

 

This will help you provide a better answer to the ‘why this firm’ style question. 

 

Example – Pinsent Masons 

 

Pinsent Masons’ values are ‘Approachable. Bold. Connected’. So how does this translate to internal culture? 

 

Well, according to interviews with trainees at the firm (check out brightnetwork.co.uk for this type of content), the atmosphere is ‘open, approachable and helpful’ and the working environment is ‘inclusive’ and ‘everyone is willing to help’. The culture was also described as ‘down to earth’, welcoming and very sociable. 

 

The firm was also described as ‘diverse, inclusive and a happy place for people to work’. 

 

Remember – research is a two way street. It’s there to help you with your application but also to help you work out if this firm is the right fit for you. You’ll be spending years at the firm so make sure it’s a firm you want to spend years of your life with! Do you see a future there? 

 

Trainee culture

The trainee culture of the firm is important because that’s the role you’re apply for. There is absolutely no point wasting endless amounts of time drafting an application for a firm with a trainee culture that does not suit or interest you. 

 

Again, understanding the culture of the trainees will help further with answering ‘why this firm’ and ‘your interests outside of law’. 

 

There are lots of very useful YouTube videos covering a ‘day in the life of a trainee’ at lots of different law firms. Just search ‘trainee’ and the name of your desired firm and something is bound to come up. 

 

Also, follow the grad pages of the law firms on social media. The grad page is literally targeted for aspiring lawyers seeking training contracts at that firm… you’ll also see what trainees are up to (i.e. all the social events, volunteering and sports events the trainees get involved in).