5 ways to research a firm

5 things

5 things to get right when researching law firms

There's no point joining a firm just for its prestige if you're not going to be happy or productive there. In fact, if the firm is a bad match with your personality and aspirations, you’re unlikely to even get a job there. Every associate we interview tells us why they think they were successful: most often it’s down to finding the right match.

“It is important to do your homework on a potential employer and determine whether it seems like a fit.”
Leslie Ripley, chief recruiting officer, Gibson Dunn

1. The Work

Are you entrepreneurial and go-getting or do you prefer to work through tasks you're given every day? Would a free market or allocated work system suit you best? Do you like to juggle multiple tasks at once or work on one big long-term project? Do you get a buzz from thinking globally or feel more at home operating in a region you know well? Are you more comfortable working as part of a big or a small team? Will you be ready to focus on one area of law as a first-year associate or would you prefer to sample several areas for a few years before deciding? Do you relish the prospect of cultivating clients personally or want to keep them at arms' length as much as possible?

“It really shows when someone is speaking from the heart about what they want to do. ”
Carrie Wagner, director of attorney recruiting, Cooley

2. Culture and Offices

Big city or small town? Do you want to be one of many associates working for few partners or few associates working for many partners? Are you a stickler for tradition or do you like to shake things up? How important is technology to you? Or flexible working options? Dress code? Would working with 'world famous' lawyers excite or intimidate you? Do you love or loathe firms that market themselves as quirky or fun(ny)? How about those that barely feel the need to invest in marketing because their reputations speak for themselves? Would you adore the whiff of polished mahogany in your own office or prefer open-plan, steel and glass?

“We've never had any self-proclaimed hotshots bossing everyone else around, even when famous names like Mary Jo White were here. ”
Associate, Debevoise

3. Hours & Compensation

Is money your be-all and end-all? Would you sacrifice some pay check for better work/life balance? Do you favor lockstep or a more merit-based system? Or eat-what-you-kill (or bill) versus more predictable salary and bonuses? Would you rather be given an annual billing target or trusted to deliver what you think you can manage (and is appropriate)? How important is the possibility of alternative schedules (eg. reduced hours) to you? How about the firm's attitude to taking vacation? Or working all-nighters and weekends? Are you wedded to the billable hour model or excited by alternative billing methods?

“If one doesn’t put time and care into the billing process, sorting out the resulting issues can be frustrating and time-consuming.”
Jonathan Blake, former chair, Covington & Burling

4. Pro Bono and Diversity

Would you be happier at a firm that incentivizes pro bono, or at one that doesn’t let it get in the way of your billing work? What type of pro bono work interests you and does the firm do it? If not, might it allow you to? How important is it to you that a firm can demonstrate its commitment to diversity through tangible programs and initiatives? Is there a diversity committee and head of diversity? Do you care?

“Nice guys can, in fact, finish first (or at least near the front of the pack), while still caring about collegiality, pro bono and diversity.”
Keith Wetmore, former chair of MoFo

5. Strategy

Do you want to join a firm that's constantly growing through mergers and acquisitions, or one that will only ever grow conservatively and organically? Is global domination high on your check list, or operating unflashily in a proven niche? Do you want to work for a firm that only promotes from within or regularly hires in big-hitting lateral partners to build practices? Is future national or international expansion important to you? Do you have language skills or experience that would be an asset to a firm as it grows? Do you plan to be with the firm in five years? Ten?

“You must ask yourself the magic question: "What do I want?" Be ruthlessly honest in your answer. This is the crystallizing question.”
Jeff Cohen, cofounder, Cohen Gardner LLP (who once played 'Chunk' in The Goonies)