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Ask the Hiring Attorney: How much do I need to know about firms where I’m interviewing?

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Ask The Hiring Attorney

Q: How in-depth should our research be into each law firm outside of knowing its general practice areas and those of the interviewer?

A: I’m glad you’re thinking ahead! Preparation for the interview is critical for success and one of the easiest ways you can distinguish yourself from other job candidates seeking the same position. Preparation doesn’t just include reviewing your resume and going through mock interviews, it also includes researching the law firms where you’ll be interviewing.

Although law firms don’t expect law students and junior attorneys to have a lot of technical or substantive knowledge of practice areas, they are looking for job candidates to demonstrate genuine interest in—and commitment to—the job position, the employer, its mission, its clients, and its work. After all, hiring you is a considerable investment on the law firm’s part. Just a few of their efforts and costs are: having attorneys and legal staff spend billable time on the non-billable hiring process; your salary and benefits; payment to a legal recruiter (if you’re using a headhunter); and the costs of training you (again, this takes considerable time away from your bosses’ billable work). You can see that the law firm wants to avoid the mistake of hiring someone who isn’t committed.

One the simplest ways you can demonstrate genuine interest and commitment during a job interview is by researching the prospective employer. Surprisingly, relatively few job candidates do this—even though it’s clearly in their self-interest, simple to do, and can sometimes be the difference between failure and success. Think of it from the law firm’s perspective—why should they hire someone who can’t be bothered to find out what they do?

The first step in your research is the law firm’s website. There you can find not only the general practice areas and core strengths, but also much more information like the firm’s size, history, types of clients, and mission. You should know such basics as whether the law firm is a boutique plaintiffs’ firm handling a large volume of individual personal injury lawsuits in state court, or whether the law firm is an established multinational, full-service firm serving global corporations in federal or multi-jurisdictional matters worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or whether the law firm is a rapidly expanding firm focused on patent protection and portfolio management for start-up technology companies. It’s not just the general practice areas that will be different; the entire functioning and culture of the law firm will be different. You should know this going into the interview.

Many law firms will have a recent news section (which might also include links to Client Alerts and other publications by its lawyers) on their website. Take a look at it. See what legal, business, economic, political, and other trends are affecting the firm and its clients. Is the firm expanding into Asia? Did its founding partner win a local Chamber of Commerce award? Did it close a major merger or acquisition? Is there an evolving area of law that’s having an impact on its clients?

It’s less important to know detailed information about your interviewers. Often you won’t know who will be interviewing you until you arrive for your interview! If you’re lucky enough to know whom you’ll be meeting, then take a look at the interviewers’ practice area, seniority, and recent accomplishments. Also take note if there’s anything you have in common, like alma maters, worth mentioning in the interview.

When thinking about preparing for the interview, however, you should think about research beyond the firm and its lawyers. If you know what practice area you’re most interested in, then check out legal blogs and news related to that practice area to get a sense of recent developments, trends, and issues.

Keep in mind that when you review the firm’s website, you’re reviewing the information that is controlled and filtered by the firm. The only way to find unfiltered information about the firm to go beyond the resources that the firm provides. Search the firm’s name in general, business, and legal news sites like Bloomberg as well as independent blogs, social media, and resources like NALP to get more information about the firm’s health and reputation.

You may have to read between the lines. Is the firm growing or in decline? Is it winning cases or suffer major losses? How long do lawyers stay? Is there fast turn-around, or do they stay for years on end? Where do they land employment after they leave the firm? Are lawyers leaving en masse or are there lots of recent hires? Is the firm “top heavy” with lots of senior attorneys? Is it regularly promoting attorneys from within the firm, or hiring from the outsides? Are the compensation, benefits, and training competitive? Is the firm well respected and a good corporate citizen that’s active in it’s community? Are the firm’s practice areas growing? Who are its major clients? Are they thriving? What are people (including current and former lawyers) saying about the firm and its lawyers? These are all issues that you might not discuss directly in a job interview, but will be important for you to think about when evaluating an offer.

The bottom line is more informed you are, the better you will perform in the interview and the better decision you can make about accepting a job offer.

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.