Part of applying for work in the legal sphere involves deciding what kind of firm you want to work with, what kind of lawyer you want to be, and what you want your daily work to look like. Topping off this year’s Law School & Careers features is Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, who talks to Lawyer Monthly about the very real struggle of choosing a law firm to work for.
It is probably true to say that the perfect law firm does not exist but there are number of factors to consider when you are thinking about which law firms to apply to. In the current economic climate obtaining a training contract is challenging so it is important to do your research and target law firms that are right for you.
What kind of lawyer do I want to be?
We have all watched legal dramas like Suits, The Good Wife, and Silk where law is portrayed as glamorous and exciting. Court trials make great television but the work of an advocate is not for every law student. You need to think carefully about what areas of law you have enjoyed and excelled at during your degree to help you narrow down the areas of law you might want to practice in. Once you are able to do that you can start to identify law firms that offer those services.
Size does matter!
Do you want to work in a large, medium sized or small firm? Are you looking for a niche or boutique firm that offers specialised legal advice? Once you know the areas of law you are interested in you need to consider the size of firm. Would you enjoy working in a large corporate law firm or would a small high street firm work better for you? It is about imagining the size of firm where you will excel.
Location, location, location
It is not just important to think about the size of the firm but where it is located, are you attracted to working in the City, do you want a large regional city like Manchester or would a rural location be preferable? A law firm will only be perfect if it is in a location where you will be happy and settled.
Try before you buy!
Having narrowed down the types of law firms’ start looking at their websites to gain a greater understanding of the ethos and values of the firm. Search the legal press for articles, read reviews in the Legal 500 and Chambers to gain a greater understanding of the firm. The best way to really determine whether this is the right firm for you is to do a vacation work placement because that way you will get a much more realistic insight into the how the firm operates. While you are there look at how the partners treat the junior staff. Are people friendly and do the employees seem genuinely happy at the firm? Finding the perfect law firm is more than just the legal work but about the environment you will work in. If junior staff seem disgruntled and unhappy think about how that would impact on you as a trainee solicitor.
An interview is a two way process
As much as the firm is interviewing you to determine whether you are a right for them you should be interviewing them to consider whether this is the perfect law firm for you. The recruitment process is an opportunity to interact with different parts of the organisation from the HR team, reception staff, fee earners, and partners- reflect on what impressions they made on you. Were you impressed with the way in which staff conducted themselves? You will get the opportunity to ask questions at the end of an interview so make sure you have prepared questions that will help you determine whether this is the right firm for you. Before you leave imagine yourself working at the firm? Does it feel right? Are you coming away feeling eager and excited? If not, it probably isn’t the right firm for you.
Do your homework?
If you are lucky enough to be offered a training contract, make sure you talk to other trainees and people at the firm to find out their experiences. Ask fellow students who may have done a placement what their view of the firm is. Ultimately it is you who has to decide but having an informed view will make that decision much easier.
Training contracts are very valuable commodities and not every law student will have the luxury of choosing the perfect firm. Notwithstanding that if you do get an opportunity to train, work hard and be committed. You never know, it might turn out to be the perfect law firm! Even if not, once you are qualified the world’s your oyster!