Before the Interview: How to Research a Firm

business handshakeWhen you’re facing an important legal job interview, knowledge is your best friend. Your confidence, relevance and ability to forge productive connections with interviewers all are directly proportional to what you know about the target firm (or corporation).

Securing a great law job includes many factors (the economy, credentials of other candidates, insider connections, etc.) that are not within the scope of your direct control. However, researching your target firm is one aspect that you can control. Want to set yourself apart from all the other candidates? Make it your goal to be the best-informed candidate to walk into that interview room. So what are you waiting for? Take a look at these suggestions on how to research a firm before an interview — and get to work!

What Does The Firm Say About Itself?

Your first task: Develop a clear picture of how Firm ABC is different from all the rest. Unfortunately, “top-line” research is likely to find far more similarities than differences in how competing firms describe themselves. Nevertheless, the differences are there — for those willing to do the work. Scour the websites, social media sites (especially LinkedIn) and printed materials — not only for your interview firm, but also for its chief competitors. Then assemble a matrix or spreadsheet to make sense of all this information. Among the possible columns for your database:

  • What values does the firm espouse?
  • What accomplishments have they publicized in news releases?
  • What subjects arise most often in blogposts, speeches and white papers?

By compiling this information in a uniform format, you’ll find it easier to spot similarities and differences between firms — and to organize your thoughts for interviews. Ultimately, you want to create “benchmark” profiles — which later will help you assess whether a firm’s “employment brand promise” stands up to the reputation your research is uncovering.

What Do Legal Professionals Say About The Firm?

Law firms don’t operate in a vacuum. They are constantly interacting with clients, courts, competitors, governments, businesses and individuals — and these interactions leave “tracks.” Your job, then, is to follow the trails and discover for the patterns that inevitably will emerge. How? It goes without saying that a Google search is a natural first step for gathering general information and “leads” on people you might want to contact. You want to find people with opinions about your target firm, ask a few open-ended questions and then really listen — both to what they say and to what they don’t say. Other good sources of legal industry information include:

  • Bar associations
  • Legal professionals who used to work at your target firm
  • Industry media
  • Law school librarians
  • Academics
  • School alumni with current (or past) connections to the firm

What Do The Numbers Say About The Firm?

In addition to the anecdotal information (conversations, stories and other subjective accounts) about a firm, it’s smart to assemble quantifiable data about key indicators. These telltale indices include factors such as Average Hours Billed/Year, Average Revenue/Partner and Average Salaries for New Associates. (A key benefit of quantifiable data: “Apples-to-apples” comparisons that will highlight the differences between firms.) The legal field also has numerous industry groups, consultants and academic entities that combine rigorous number-crunching with surveys of legal insiders. Check out the annual reports they produce on important topics such as:

  • Best places to work
  • Best firms for minorities
  • Best firms for women

How Well Does The Firm Fit Your Career Interests and Work Style?

You need to know how each target firm fits with your career interests and your particular working style. (Are you comfortable with the “sharp elbows” and aggressive gamesmanship that characterizes some firms? You’ll want to go into those situations with your eyes wide open.) If you’re pursuing a particular legal niche, it goes without saying that you’ll want a firm that will accommodate that practice. Or perhaps you seek to learn from a senior member who has earned a reputation in your desired field? Getting in-depth information on these topics is more than a “detail.” You need to be sure.

When It’s Showtime, Your Research Investment Pays Big Dividends

Remember, interviewing is a two-way street. Of course you want to make a good impression. But for those who do their homework, the interview session also is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of what’s really going on behind the firm’s slick brochures and flashy website. Not only will you pose relevant questions that set you apart, you also will have prepared your mind to “hear” things that less-informed candidates simply won’t grasp.

When you truly understand why a particular firm is a great match for your skills and interests, you’ll “show up” in a way that can’t help but impress an interviewer. Having done a bang-up job of research, you’ll be poised and confident when you step into the interview. Instead of repeating the same freshman questions that everyone else asks, you’ll be prepared to engage in an intelligent discussion — one that makes a big impression on those who are judging your capabilities.

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