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You have probably heard the quote by the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca that goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Oprah Winfrey reiterated a similar version of the same quote almost two-thousand years later. Clearly, these two intelligent individuals were on to something.
In the context of job interviews, the above quote couldn’t be more accurate.
Opportunity: Your Foot is in the Door—Don’t Blow It
Your prospective employer has selected you for an interview, which is an incredible opportunity. Remember the fact that you are even being interviewed means that you have met the minimum qualifications and your resume has caught the employer’s attention. The employer has sifted through countless resumes, cover letters, and applications to pick you for an interview. Your foot is now in the door. Whether that door opens all the way is, for the most part, in your hands.
One of the employer’s goals during the interview is to ascertain how much you know about the law firm. Author Dave Barry once said, “Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot masturbate.” Barry might as well have been talking about interviews instead of meetings. Employers want to hear how much you know about their law firm and how interested you are in working there.
Simply put, they want to hire applicants who will be passionate about working for them. Knowledge of the law firm will help convey this passion. Knowledge of the firm is also critical to a successful interview.
You will inevitably be asked questions such as “What do you know about us?” or “Why do you want to work here?” If you haven’t done any research, you will be forced to give a general answer. It will be immediately apparent to the interviewers that you know little about them. If this happens, you have drastically decreased your chances of getting hired.
Preparation: Researching the Law Firm is Key
You may already be familiar with larger law firms in the area. However, in a tight economy, you should cast a wide net with your job applications. This means applying to many mid-sized firms, which you may have never even heard of. For these firms, we have provided five innovative research methods below.
1. Use Google’s Exact-Match Search
Your preliminary research should start with Google. Type in your employer’s name in quotes. For example, if the law firm’s name is Wolkowski, Smith, & Goldstein, then type exactly that, surrounded by quotes, into Google. If you didn’t know, using quotes is a powerful search tool. Instead of finding websites that have “Wolkowski” “Smith” and “Goldstein” in any combination on the page (e.g. Goldstein, Smith, and Wolkowski), using quotes will return pages where those names appear in that specific order.
After searching, click on each of the top results and read. This will give you a general overview of what the law firm does. You will probably find their website. Read through all of it, keeping in mind that it may not be entirely helpful. Many firms say that they’re involved in every practice area to maximize their client outreach; however, in practice, they will often specialize in just a few areas of law.
Let’s say after Googling “Wolkowski, Smith, & Goldstein,” you discovered that it is a law firm that does insurance defense work. This is a good start, but it isn’t enough.
2. Search Law Firm Directories
Next, you want to go to http://www.nalpdirectory.com, which is run by the National Association for Law Placement. Click on Quick Search and type in the firm name into the Employer Name section. Click search. If the law firm is in this directory, then click on the search result that comes up. This will display a variety of information such as primary practice areas, number of lawyers at the firm, and a narrative summarizing what the firm is about. This information should give you a better idea of what the firm does.
Another great resource is http://www.martindale.com. Click on Search Tools and select Law Firms. Make sure the Law Firms tab is highlighted and fill in as much information as you can. The research results may give you some more information, and is particularly helpful for researching the individual lawyers who will be interviewing you, which will be discussed in a future blog post.
All of this information that you compile from these above methods should paint a picture of the firm—how many attorneys work there, what their main practice areas are, how many attorneys are alumni of your law school, etc. However, your research isn’t complete yet.
3. Perform Case Research through LexisNexis, Westlaw, and/or Google Scholar
If you are still in law school, then you most likely have free access to LexisNexis and Westlaw. You should utilize these resources to learn more about the types of cases that the law firm gets.
On LexisNexis, login and click Research Now. Under States Legal – U.S. select the state where the firm resides (click view more if your state isn’t in the default list). Under Find Cases, click Federal & State Cases, Combined. Under the Select a Segment drop down menu, select Counsel, type in the firm name, then click Add. Finally, click Search to see what cases your law firm has been involved in. Note: as a shortcut, just go to the search box and search for COUNSEL(Law Firm Name).
This will most likely only return Federal cases and State-Appellate cases. But you should nonetheless get some helpful results. Quickly skim through the cases and read the summaries. In addition to giving you a clear indication of what the firm does, you may even find a recent case that interests you that you can bring up during your interview.
To perform the same search on Westlaw, go to the search box for the state in which the law firm is located. Click Show Advanced Options and then under Fields, select Attorney – AT(). Click in the search box and enter the law firm’s name in between the parentheses like: AT(Law Firm Name). Click Search.
Bonus Tip: if you are applying to work for a judge, you can use a similar approach. On Lexis, search for JUDGE(Lastname). On Westlaw, search for JU(Lastname). Because Judges were attorneys at one point, you should also do a COUNSEL( ) search with the judge’s name on Lexis, or an AT( ) search on Westlaw to see what kind of cases they litigated as a practicing attorney. If you are applying to work with a Federal Judge, check out http://dockets.justia.com for an excellent website with many advanced search features.
If you do not have access to LexisNexis or Westlaw, you should try Google scholar, located at http://scholar.google.com. This is a free way to search for legal opinions. Despite some current limitations, Google Scholar has incredible potential and may even put Lexis and Westlaw out of business in future years.
To search on Google Scholar, first select Legal opinions and journals. Type the firm name (running two searches: one with and one without quotes) and browse through any opinions that result. You should get less results than on Lexis or Westlaw because not all unpublished opinions are available on Google Scholar. Still, this is a great free resource for those who are out of school and don’t have access to Lexis or Westlaw.
4. Conduct Jury Verdict Searches through LexisNexis and Westlaw
As discussed above, a regular case search will not get you State Trial cases. Furthermore, it is well known that most lawsuits settle. Thus, you should go one more step to perform a jury verdict search, which will return a good amount of published jury verdicts and settlements that the law firm was involved in. This search will not reveal every verdict or settlement. It will, however, provide you with more information that will help you get a feel for the types of cases that the law firm handles. As far as we know, there is no free way to do this outside of Lexis or Westlaw.
We have found that the Lexis jury verdict search is far superior to the Westlaw jury verdict search. On Lexis, click Research Now. Under States Legal – U.S. select the state where the firm resides (click view more if your state isn’t in the default list). Under Find Briefs, Motions, Pleadings & Jury Verdicts click View More. If you have access to it, click on State Mega Jury Verdicts & Settlements (Including IDEX). In the search box, simply type the law firm name and click search. A wealth of information should come up.
To do the same on Westlaw, navigate to the search options for your particular state. Scroll down beneath the search box to where it says Jury Instructions & Jury Verdicts. You can experiment with the different search options; however, we strongly recommend using Lexis for this as we have found that it will return more search results.
5. Tap Your Network and Your Law School’s Resources
You should also tap into your network if possible. Call or email friends, family members, former professors, or your school’s office of career services to ask whether they have any information about the law firm.
If your school has an alumni department or alumni association, you could try contacting them to see whether any alumni work at that law firm. Alumni are often, surprisingly, very eager to help those starting out. A letter, email, or phone call is a great way to establish a helpful contact. After confirming that they will help you, you can ask to talk with them on the phone or meet with them in person for 10-15 minutes. This is called an “informational interview.” Informational interviews can be an extremely beneficial option for research. In addition to asking for general information about law firm or firms where you will interview at, you can ask other helpful questions, such as what law firms are looking for in their job candidates.
Is All of This Work Worth It?
Yes! All of the above research methods might seem like a lot of work, but once you get the hang of it, you can generally research a law firm in less than fifteen minutes, with the exception of #5.
Furthermore, thoroughly researching law firms will produce incredible interviews. Preparation gives you confidence. Rather than being unsure of answers to basic questions such as “what do you know about our law firm” and stumbling over your words to find an artificial answer, you will be able to respond with a strong answer that will impress the employer and set you apart from other applicants. In a competitive job market, you need every advantage that you can get.
We hope that you enjoyed this article. If you have other research methods that we did not cover, we would love for you to leave a comment discussing them. Thanks for reading—we have no doubt that you will indeed be “lucky” in your job search.