By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
I remember what it was like preparing for my Big Law firm interviews. It was a tough time because although our law school’s career center provided us with resources, I still felt that I was missing a lot of details about how I could navigate the process.
One crucial aspect of the preparation is to research your interviewer’s law firms. Despite having access to the resources available online or being able to gather information by talking to associates, I still wondered how to organize, internalize and use the information in the interview. Here is exactly how you can research these law firms to achieve these goals.
I’ll include some other resources at the end of this article about preparing for your interview.
- Why Research?
- How to Research Big Law Firms
Researching law firms has several benefits. First, you want to know what kind of firm you may be potentially joining. Do they actually practice the area of law you want to pursue? Is that practice renowned? Is the firm prestigious enough for your standards (if you care)? How do they train their associates? Do junior associates get to rotate practice groups? These are all very important things you need to be aware of before your interview.
Second, selling your best qualities to your interviewer is only part of the battle. An interview is a two-way street. On one hand, you are picking the right law firm for yourself and on the other hand, the firm is trying to find the right candidate that fits their needs.
Law firms don’t want to waste a callback interview slot on someone who does not have a basic understanding of the firm or on someone who would not want to accept an extended offer. Therefore, it is important that you show genuine interest in their firm during the interview. To do that, you have to have at least a basic understanding of what the firm’s best qualities are and why you would thrive in their work environment and firm culture.
Another way your interviewer will prompt you to show interest in their firm is by giving you about five minutes at the end of your interview to ask them questions. If you don’t know anything about their firm, how can you ask good questions?
If you walk out without asking any questions, you probably won’t get a return offer (or even a callback interview invitation).
Another thing that can destroy your chances of getting a callback or an offer is to ask dumb questions that can be easily found on the internet (e.g., “What is your firm’s strongest practice area?” is objectively a dumb question to ask during your interview – you should know this because you did your research before walking in).
How to Research Big Law Firms
So, how do you research law firms before your interviews? Here are four resources you can use: Vault, Chambers Associate, the NALP Directory, and Chambers & Partners.
Let’s start with Vault.
Vault is a website that ranks law firms based on insider information from verified employees and interns. This website is most known for their Vault Law 100 rankings list which ranks prestigious Big Law firms.
This is usually where I started my research for specific law firms. In addition to ranking law firms, Vault has a profile for each law firm with information including the size of the firm’s summer program, a quick overview of the firm’s notable practice areas, and recent news headlines (if any).
Let’s use Cravath, Swaine & Moore as our example. As you can see in the screenshot below, Vault gives us an overview about what it’s like to work at Cravath. We can see that they have top-ranked corporate and banking practices and their associates are getting exciting, high-stakes work. We can also see that, unfortunately, the work hours are unpredictable.
However, the fact that hours are unpredictable shouldn’t be news to you. Everyone pursuing Big Law should know for a fact that these lawyers work long, sometimes crazy, hours. They’re getting paid a huge amount of money after all.
On the sidebar to the right, you can see that they had a 100% return offer rate for their summer associates last year (95 out of 95 2Ls received an offer). This is great because that means you have a high chance of getting a return offer if you do what you’re supposed to do.
You can also see that there are several tabs like “Associate Reviews”. You need a Vault account to access this, but usually your law school should have provided you with instructions on how to access it for free using your law school email. This section provides some insight into what their associates think about their work environment. You can definitely pick up something useful here.
Next, there’s a “Why Work Here” section. This is Vault’s own description of what Cravath does and how they manage their associates. As you can see in the screenshot below, Cravath has a Rotating System where each associate is assigned a different small group of lawyers every 12-18 months.
This would allow you, as an associate, to get experience in a wide range of practice areas, but it would definitely make specialization impossible since rotations are mandatory. If you don’t want to be locked into a particular practice area when you start, this should be attractive to you, because Cravath is giving you the opportunity to “try out” different practice areas before settling into one.
To access Vault Rankings, just Google “Vault [firm name],” and the first search result should be what you’re looking for.
Chambers Associate was my next stop when researching firms. They provide fast facts about the firm’s culture, their top practice areas, and career development opportunities.
You can access Chambers Associate here.
Let’s take a look at what it’s like to work at Skadden.
As you can see from the screenshot below, Skadden hires a lot of their summer associates into their strong corporate practice. As for litigation, they mostly funnel their summer associates into their complex litigation group.
You can also see that although they have a work allocation system, it’s not the only way to get the type of work you want. You can reach out to a partner directly to ask for specific work, which resembles a “free market” system at other firms (where there is no work allocation system and where associates are expected to reach out to others for the work they want).
How can you use this information in your interview? If you work best in a structured work environment, then tell your interviewer that you think Skadden’s work allocation system would be a good fit for you based on your work style. You can also mention that you like the added option of having the ability to circumvent this structured system every now and then for specific work that catches your eye.
Scrolling down further, you can see that the firm’s culture in their New York office is the complete opposite of “fratty.” Also, “Nobody’s ever yelled at me. Perceptions at law school of Skadden being a sweatshop were completely wrong.” That’s great news for you if you’re interested in working at Skadden.
That being said, take this advice with a grain of salt as many of the comments are submitted by current associates who just might have some confirmation bias and who undoubtedly have nothing to gain by bad-mouthing their firm to a major publication.
In Skadden’s case, information about culture here is really for your own personal assessment of the firm. During your interview, you could ask your interviewer, “How would you describe the culture of your practice group (or firm)?” This is a great way to verify the accuracy of the information you read online.
Scrolling down even further, we can see that Skadden gives their associates many pro bono opportunities. You can also get an idea of how much an associate works (1800 billable hours per year) and the firm’s outlook under “Strategy & Future.”
So how should you use this information?
Generally, you should shy away from focusing on the pro bono aspect of a firm. But if your interviewer starts talking about how much they enjoy the pro bono work, you can go along and ask more questions about it.
As for the billable hour requirement, that information is for your own use. Some associates have better work-life balance than others in different firms. Don’t talk about billable hours during an interview. You may come off as lazy if you keep asking about how much they work because all Big Law lawyers work long hours – it’s not a secret.
As for the “Strategy & Future” section, you’ll notice that Skadden does a ton of cross-border M&A work. If this is a field you are really interested in pursuing, talk about it during your interview! Tell your interviewer that you want to work at Skadden because cross-border M&A is one of their strong suits and that this is the field you want to build your career upon.
The NALP Directory
This is a great place to get data about the sizes of the firms’ practice groups, what their training program is like, their lawyer demographics, their compensation figures, and more.
When you head to nalpdirectory.com, you’ll see the following search landing below.
Type in the firm’s name and you should end up at a screen like the one below. I used Debevoise as an example.
Click on the right office location. Clicking on Debevoise’s New York office, we get a snapshot of the firm’s information.
As you can see, there are many tabs towards the top. Dig through every tab that has information that you want to learn about. For instance, if you want to know what the firm’s training program for their associates is like, click on “Professional Development.”
As you can see below, Debevoise’s New York office has in-house training programs including external firm-paid seminars. You can also see that junior corporate associates go through a mandatory rotation process to broaden their exposure to Debevoise’s transactional practices.
Chambers & Partners
Chamber & Partners is another great resource that is used for assessing the reputation and strength of a firm’s practice areas through their well-regarded firm rankings and inside information.
You can easily use the rankings on Chambers & Partners to identify which firms have renowned practice areas you are interested in. After researching through Chambers & Partners, you should also be able to articulate intelligently several reasons why you want to work at a particular firm. The last thing you want to do is rave on and on about how great a firm’s bankruptcy practice is when they don’t even have one.
Here’s the first thing you should see when you go to the Chambers website here.
Click “search by name” below the “Region/Guide” search bar, and type in the firm name (boxed in red above). We’ll use Davis Polk as an example.
Click the “USA” button next to “Also ranked in:” to ensure that you are looking at the US offices (boxed in red above). Once you scroll down the page, you’ll see a breakdown of Davis Polk’s main practice areas.
If you scroll back up and click on the “Ranked Departments” tab, you can actually see which practice areas are highly regarded in the field. “Band 1” is the best rating.
Let’s say we’re interested in Davis Polk’s New York office. We can see that they are in Band 1 for corporate/M&A. Click on “View” next to Corporate/M&A to see Chamber’s review on their corporate practice.
Under the “Chambers Review” tab, you can see what their corporate practice’s reputation is. You can also see “Notable practitioners” in their practice with their reputations described. If one of these “notable practitioners” ends up interviewing you during your callback interviews, make sure you sound interested in their practice area or ask them targeted questions on their work. They have a lot of influence in the hiring decisions.
Congratulations on making it this far. Here are some other resources for preparing for your interview.
1. Cold-email junior firm attorneys (preferably alumni) and ask them for a phone or coffee chat.
This is one of the best ways to research a firm. You have a better chance of getting a response from a junior associate who graduated from your school. After your coffee chat, you can even name-drop the junior associate’s name during your firm interview if you really hit it off with that junior associate during your coffee chat.
As long as you had a good conversation with the junior associate, you can probably safely tell your interviewer that you spoke with [Junior Associate’s name] from [specific firm practice group] before your interview and learned a lot about their firm and practice group. This shows the interviewer that you are very interested in their firm, which will earn you bonus points. I wrote a detailed article about how to reach out to junior associates to set up a coffee chat and proper etiquette you should follow here.
2. Develop and memorize your interview responses.
Always prepare your responses before your interview. Don’t walk in and “wing it.” You will not get the job that way. Your responses should roll off your tongue effortlessly because you have prepared sufficiently.
We wrote an article about common interview questions with instructions on how to formulate a response along with sample responses here.
4. Prepare the proper attire. And get a 10/10 haircut.
I’ve seen some crazy, ill-fitting suits at job fairs. Make sure you get this part down. Like it or not, your appearance matters to your interviewers. We wrote a detailed article about how to dress for a firm interview for men here (coming soon). We also have a detailed article for women’s attire here (coming soon).