Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Last week, I started a week-long series designed to prepare you for articling applications. We took a look at why writing your applications with a cohesive and personal narrative in mind is important and I outlined the key steps you should start thinking through well before the July application deadlines: Defining your Legal Interests, Evaluating Yourself as a Candidate, and Gaining Commercial Awareness. Today, we'll look at the final step, Researching Law Firms.
As I said in last Sunday's post, while firm research and application alignment is an important step, it shouldn't be your first step. Trying to shoe-horn yourself into a firm's sweet spot has real potential to make you sound disingenuous or unfocused and, if you are successful, create an unhappy union between a candidate and firm that really don't match. If you've been following along all week, you should be pretty close to having a defined personal narrative, which means you can start finding firms that match your interest and values. So, in this final post of my Articling Prep series, we'll look at how to effectively research firms to decide which ones you'll want to apply to in July.
If you haven't been following along, you really should go back to the first post in this series and work your way through; don't worry, we'll be waiting for you when you come back here!
You should start your research by asking yourself what you are looking for in a firm including: the firm's practice focus (link to your personal legal interests), seat rotation model, firm size, support/mentorship opportunities, and continued education/development offerings. Remember, this is the first step in your career and landing an articling job at a firm where you fit and excel can lead to re-hiring opportunities after your articling terms is over. Of course, you can use your firm research to inform some of your desires; just make sure you aren't losing yourself in the process.
To help with this, I've created a handy Firm Research Template to help you consistently capture details about each firm you research in a single, uniform summary. Create one of these for each firms and you'll save time re-trolling through firm websites as you write your cover letters in the summer. Furthermore, this sheet can be a handy starting point for interview prep.
Some firms will be a better fit than others, so I've included a categorization method on the template: first tier firms will be ones you put the most effort into when applying, second tier will be a fair amount of effort, and third tier will be less effort, etc. When I say "effort" I generally mean the amount of tailoring you will do in your cover letter; by the time you get to third tier firms you will likely use a generic cover letter.
Now it's time to start researching! I suggest breaking this down into a two stages with the first being some general online research and filling in the template above as much as you can using firm websites, firm student-program sites, and firm directory sites like Lexpert. Your goal here should be to get a feel for each firm, their articling program itself, and organize them into your tiers. In late May (ish) the ViLaw portal should have a listing of the major firms with articling applications open, but it's a good idea to start your preliminary online research early so you have time to do a quality job without impending exam pressure.
Once preliminary online research is done, you can start doing a bit of networking research. Most firms post email addresses for their current articling students and encourage you to speak to them about their experience. This is a great way to understand more about firm culture and the articling program itself. Of course, if you know a lawyer or partner at a firm that interests you, certainly reach out to them as well! Another option is to find lawyers at the firm who share your interests or also went to school abroad and cold-call/email them to see if they would be willing to give their perspective on the firm and why they enjoy their career there.
If you do make a great connection while networking, and your contact is comfortable with it, you can name-drop them on your cover letter to underpin your interest in the firm and tie the firm's work back to your personal legal interests (e.g. "having spoken to [name] about their work at [firm], specifically in the [practice area] , I'm interested in your firm because...").
Give yourself plenty of time; start now. Firm research can take time especially if reach out to lawyers and partners while networking as they have very busy schedules and may take some time to get back to you. Short-cutting this part of your articling application prep can be detrimental as your cover letters will be inevitably generic without the benefit of firm insights.
As we get nearer to articling application deadlines, I'll post some helpful resources for finding articling positions (outside of ViLaw). But hopefully this series has given you a good foundation and a few things to think about in the meantime.