Researching Legal Recruiters

Welcome to Step 4 of The University of Law’s Student Employability Programme: Researching Legal Recruiters.

To qualify as a lawyer takes many years of preparation and hard work. Well timed research is essential; which involves taking action to gather information and to use it well.  

In this introduction, we will briefly cover:

  • Why you should research and when
  • What to research and how
  • And, importantly, taking action by using your research

Finally, remember that research is an ongoing task, which you will need to return to throughout the recruitment process.  Our accompanying materials provide more information including website links to all the resources we refer to in this introduction.

So why should you research? There are many good reasons.  Research will help you gain a valuable insight into the legal profession allowing you to understand what solicitors and barristers do and the factors affecting the future of the legal market

It will help you understand the work undertaken in the various practice areas and within different types of organisations, whether these are Magic Circle firms or in-house legal departments.

Research will also help you decide which firms, chambers or organisations to target for applications and give you an insight into their culture, their clients, the pressures the organisation faces, and even the reputation of the organisation or individual lawyers.

Through your research you will be up to date with legal news, current deals and cases, so you can demonstrate your knowledge and interest to employers.  It can give you help with identifying the experience and skills required by your targeted recruiters and in understanding how to talk about these on your applications and at interview.  Your research will also allow you to find vacancies and potential contacts, and ensure you are aware of deadlines, events or other opportunities which are open to you.

Now you may be thinking, what should I research, and when?  Your research into the legal profession should begin as soon as you initially consider a legal career. When starting out, gain a broad understanding of the profession, what changes are happening in the market and research what lawyers, within the different practice areas, do.

Your focus can then start to move towards deciding on routes to qualification through education and training, including which courses and institutions to apply to.  You can then explore where to apply for funding, and on passing any requirements placed on you by regulatory bodies, including the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority or the Inns of Court.

At the application stage, research which employers to target for applications, what skills they require and their deadlines, whether you are looking for work experience, training opportunities or pupillages.

You should also have a clear understanding of the organisations you are targeting, their positions within the wider market and how they are responding to market changes; this is especially true at the interview stage. You should have researched the particular work undertaken and perhaps that of specific individuals, and be aware of any news affecting the organisation or changes within it.

However, much of what you should consider researching is dependent upon your own career direction.  For example, whether you are planning to be a solicitor or barrister, or whether you have a law degree or non-law degree.  Also affecting your research will be where you are in the recruitment process, whether you are currently deciding if you want to be a lawyer or if you are preparing for a training contract interview.  See Step 3, Planning your legal career, for help with timelines regarding planning and researching.

When reading the Step 4 materials, you will find that the focus is on researching legal recruiters, including firms, chambers and other potential employers, as this is where you will direct most of your attention as you plan to enter the profession.

You may start by asking yourself, “What, specifically, do I need to know?”  The Step 4 activity contains a checklist of questions to help guide your research.  It is not definitive, as your research should be tailored to your own needs, but it gives you an idea of the sort of things you may want to consider for organisations you intend to target, such as:

  • The ‘core’ business of an organisation – does it align with your current interests, or offer career development?
  • The main competitors and distinguishing features of the organisation – knowing these will help you stand out in interviews
  • What they look for in trainees and their recruitment criteria – this is important for tailoring your application, and having a better chance at being successful
  • Do they offer vacation placements or mini-pupillages?  If your target organisation offers these, you should seriously consider applying early on
  • Do they recruit their trainees heavily from vacation schemes, and what are the retention rates on qualification?

These are just some examples to think about.  Your research needs to be focussed, as well as reflective.  How can the information in your research assist you, or open new avenues of research?

With the abundance of information freely available, comes an expectation from recruiters that candidates will be well informed about the organisation they are applying to. 

There are a number of student guides to the legal profession, which are an excellent starting point. These include:

  • The Chambers Student Guide
  • The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook
  • The LawCareers.Net website; and
  • Target Law and the legal section of the TargetJobs website

These resources cover both the solicitor and barrister professions.  For aspiring barristers there is also the Pupillages Handbook and the Pupillage Gateway website.

‘Client directories’, are aimed at those looking to instruct law firms or barristers, and are not restricted to organisations currently recruiting. They can give a different perspective to the student guides. The two most well-known client directories which cover the leading law firms and chambers are:

  • Chambers UK, and
  • The Legal 500 
  • Additionally, there is
  • The Law Society’s Directory, and also
  • The Bar Directory;

which provide less information, but between them, cover all law firms and chambers.

Once you start focusing on particular organisations, their websites are invaluable.  Ensure you read the recruitment section, the main, ‘client-focused’, pages, and any pages containing ‘News’ about the organisation. Remember to be aware that websites are marketing tools to promote organisations, but are still essential reading.

For any would-be lawyer, reading the legal press regularly is a must.  It will provide you with up-to-date information on the market, firms, chambers, and in house departments.  Also pay attention to news relevant to the clients of your target organisations.  There are a range of publications and news sources, many targeted to specific sectors of the market, so find those which most suit your needs. The most widely read include:

  • The Lawyer and
  • Legal Week – both of which cover the Bar and solicitor professions, with a focus on the commercial sector
  • The Law Society Gazette – for information on the solicitor profession across all areas of practice
  • Counsel Magazine, for Barristers in all areas of work; and
  • Lawyer2B, which is targeted at students looking to enter the profession.

You can check out the Practice Areas section of the StEP website to find out about specialist sources of information that you might be interested in.

When it comes to social media, make the most of the opportunities it provides.  This could include: legal blogs, forums, Twitter and LinkedIn – all of which help you keep up to date with legal news, lawyer’s opinions and the work of legal professionals relevant to your interests.

While a great deal of research can be done via the web and by using the other resources mentioned, talking to those in the legal profession is invaluable. Make the most of

  • Careers fairs and recruitment events
  • Legal talks and conferences
  • Networking events
  • And, for barristers, the Inns.

But do not rely on opportunities offered by others: make your own contacts - talk to people you know in the profession and explore your own network to find contacts who can assist.

Gaining legal experience, for example through shadowing, placements, or pro bono activities, provides an excellent opportunity to gather information by giving you first-hand knowledge of the work you might undertake.  It can also link you to contacts who could assist you further.  See Step 5 for guidance on finding experience, and how to use or create your own network of contacts.

Take time to use your research properly.  Collect and organise the information you have gained; use different sources to verify facts, fill gaps or check for inconsistencies. Use this knowledge to support your choices, evidence what you say and give you confidence in your applications: you know you will be saying the right thing to the right firm, set of chambers or legal department.

By keeping your research up-to-date you can use it to:

  • Enhance your understanding of what recruiters want to see
  • Assess your employability by comparing what you have to offer with your knowledge of what the recruiter is looking for
  • Demonstrate to recruiters that you know who they are and what they do, and therefore, why you want to join their organisation
  • Identify vacancies and opportunities, whether for training or to gain experience; and
  • Continually evaluate your choices

We have only been able to give you general guidance, as every person’s situation is unique. You are encouraged to make your own enquiries, conduct your own independent research, and tailor it to wherever you are in the recruitment process. And, remember, researching the legal profession is an ongoing process; you never stop learning.  Step 5 will help you understand how to identify experience opportunities and to network for your future career.