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How to Do Legal Research?

published December 23, 2021

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Just as in any other industry, there are better and worse times in law for finding jobs. However, it is not impossible to find excellent positions in law firms even in the most challenging times. A lot of legal recruiters and job sites would like to tell you otherwise. If you are trying to find a job when it is not easy, the worst thing you can do is rely on other people to give you information about opportunities around you. This article will tell you why and show you how to start doing your job research properly.

How I Learned the Importance of Doing Your Research of Law Firms

I am sure almost everyone remembers the legal market crash in the year 2000. It was a big hit to most law firms, big and small, and hundreds of attorneys lost their jobs. I had already started my legal recruiting company BCG Attorney Search before that and, at the time of the crash, I had been working with around 20 larger law firms that were laying off their attorneys just like many other law firms.

Although I had only been working with a few firms, I developed a massive database of thousands of law firms around the country. It contained more than 2,500 firms in the Los Angeles market alone! When I realized that we are working with less than 1% of the firms in the area, I was taken aback. But we were not the only ones doing things like this; most legal recruiters work with only a few law firms. Thankfully, BCG Attorney Search has grown a lot since then, and we now work with hundreds of law firms. However, at that time, we could only offer a handful of firms to our clients. I felt that it was unfair to limit their options based on the firms we were working with, especially when I heard so many sad stories of great attorneys being laid off and having to move back with their parents or leave the practice of law altogether. No matter how many recruiters, job sites, networking events they looked at, they were still going nowhere with finding a job in legal databases.

I knew that it was not possible for there to be no placements with thousands of firms around. But I also knew that legal recruiters usually only knew about openings in big law firms, and they could not suggest any other options for the attorneys that sought out their services. And that was fatal for many attorneys looking for jobs during such unfortunate times as the market crash. When these recruiters tell attorneys that there are not any openings for them, it is straightforward to conclude that all is lost, and you should stop trying to look for positions. But that is the worst thing you can do in that situation.

The Power of Information for Lawyers and Law Students

Having information about opportunities in the legal world is essential for surviving as a lawyer, especially when the market is slow, when you are in a small need, when you do not have business as a senior attorney, or when you are just starting at the entry-level. As I mentioned previously, there are thousands of firms in the U.S. alone; however, recruiters and job sites only work with a few biggest and most known ones.

If you rely on the information these sites and recruiters give you, you let them control the flow of information about opportunities there are for you. And not only do they only have a few percent of the information, but they also give the same information to many other lawyers you are competing for the jobs. That is not good. Unfortunately, most law students and attorneys make this mistake.

What Happens When Lawyers Stop Limiting Themselves

After I realized all of this and the stream of laid-off lawyers and law students with no jobs lined up for them did not stop coming through my door, I decided to change my approach to the situation. I wanted to help attorneys find placements, not limit them and tell them there were no opportunities when I knew there had to be.

It started with an attorney from a great law school employed in a major law firm who was let go because he pointed out that his firm was overbilling a client and could not find a placement because he did not have enough experience. After weeks of being unsuccessful, he came to me, and I decided to utilize my database of firms to help him. I comprised a list of 50+ firms he would be an excellent fit for, contacted all of them, got him several interviews. And in the end, he had a great placement in one of the best firms in his practice area, even though he thought he would have to go into a completely different industry just a few weeks earlier.

Once I realized this could work, I started using this approach with other desperate attorneys and law students who thought they had no chance in the legal world. I collaborated with them on building their lists. I asked them in conducting legal research on all law firms in their legal market and practice area and determine a few dozen of them would be a good fit. After the attorney or law student had completed the list, they were to contact each firm on it with a resume and cover letter. All of the attorneys and students I have worked with received several invitations for interviews and subsequently offers for law firm jobs regardless of what law schools they went to or firms they worked in previously. Not being limited by the open positions recruiters and job sites could offer them, they were all able to stay and prosper in the world of law firms, even though they almost lost all of their hope.

There Are Always Legal Employers That Will Hire You

The most important thing to remember is that there is always someone interested in giving you legal work in the legal market. Law firms need attorneys to earn money. If they think you can provide additional income to them, they will give you a job. No matter what the economic situation is, there are always firms that have jobs.

Litigation, for instance, is an area that is active when the economy is down because people sue a lot of companies during that time. Companies are also selling, issuing debts, and doing other operations requiring the services of lawyers when the economy is not good to save money, which means a lot of work for attorneys. During these times, companies do not have money for large law firms, which means small law firms suddenly have an influx of clients and often have to hire a lot to keep up.

Many firms that need to hire attorneys also do not have time/money/resources/marketing abilities for an entire recruitment process that starts with posting an opening or going to a recruiter. That means that there might be hundreds of firms that would gladly hire you; only no one outside of the firm knows about this opportunity.

And this is not just about law firms. Many more companies than law firms could use a great in-house lawyer but have no idea how to hire one. They just put off looking for one, so again, no one outside the company knows about their need for an in-house attorney. The same applies to solo practitioners, nonprofits, government organizations, organizations for public interests, and more. They do not know how to hire an attorney or do not have the resources to do it properly.

With so many opportunities being "hidden" everywhere around you, it is just about doing the research and getting yourself out there.

Who Controls the Information About Opportunities For You?

With so many opportunities around you, you also have to wonder why so many attorneys struggle to find jobs or why it often takes months to find suitable placements. And in reality, it is so difficult because many outside forces control and limit the amount of information you get. So, who are these external forces?

Job Sites

Job sites generally charge quite a lot of money for law firms' ads to be visible there, which means that you will find only openings from firms that are willing to pay these sums. Also, new job sites are created so often that it is impossible to know about them and get to all jobs posted to these sites. Some good genuine job sites, such as our LawCrossing, try to have an up-to-date variety of job postings. However, it is still a limited number of jobs that are already open, and it does not cover all of the opportunities there are in the legal world.

Legal Recruiters

As mentioned previously, recruiters have relationships with many firms they work with and can send candidates. The firms they work with are generally large, known firms that comprise only a fraction of the firms and organizations that can hire you, drastically limiting the information they can give you. They also only tell you about positions THEY believe you will fit in, and it might not even take you on as their client if you do not fulfill specific criteria they have set.

Network of People Around You

The strength of your network is going to control the flow of information you can get. Having many attorneys in your network can help you find out about positions that are not posted anywhere, and having friends in a firm is a great advantage in getting hired there. However, developing a good network takes years of active effort. Not everyone has time or skills.

Hearsay About the State of the Legal Market

Everyone speculates and gossips about how their industry is doing, and attorneys are no exception. It is straightforward to believe rumors about the market state if you hear them from your peers you respect. However, it is very limiting to think that the market is horrible and there are no jobs just because it is what people around you are saying. When you start doing your research, you will usually find out that it is not the case.

Organizations and Companies

Information means time and money in this world, and big organizations know it. Organizations, such as Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn, on which you rely for information, also collect information about you and tweak your experience on their platforms. After using these platforms a few times, they will show you the results their algorithms evaluate as fitting for you based on your previous activity. These sites also ban or delete things they deem inappropriate or not work for their site, so they are limiting the information you can get from them. And because they are also businesses, they will show you posts someone paid for rather than posts posted for free.

Why You Should Not Rely on Limited Information Provided by Others

As you can see, if you rely on anyone but yourself to find information about job opportunities out there, you will never know about everything. That is why it is essential to understand how to find and evaluate the most critical information for you. Learning it will improve your career significantly and rid you of the stress of not getting an interview or offer in a firm. Once you understand where the opportunities are and how to find them, your whole life will change.

If you go to a recruiter and they tell you they cannot help you and there are no opportunities for you, it does not mean that there are no opportunities for you. It just means that they have nothing for you because they only work with a fraction of law firms out of the sea of firms and companies there are. You need to understand that there are much more opportunities around you than you can be aware.

That is why I do not really like legal recruitment. What we do in BCG Attorney Search is instead a legal research process approach. We work with a small number of firms and call it a day if there are no opportunities. We do extensive research on options for every client to ensure that we do not miss anything currently out there for them. We are contacting every firm in their market and practice areas, updating databases, and utilizing all possible means to uncover what is there.

How To Do the Research To Find All Job Opportunities and Not Limit Your Information?

A few attorneys have never lost a case, although there is not a lot of them. I had the chance to work with one and seeing what went into his work. While we were working on a case together, he had us spend months researching every aspect of every detail there was in that case. We were not just looking at different laws; we had to go and talk to people who proposed it and read thousands of pages with discussion held while passing it. Honestly, I thought that many of these things were ridiculous and useless. However, something magical always happened. Thanks to these hundreds of hours of research, we always found a little crack, some tiny information, that turned the case upside down, and we always won.

Doing the proper legal research always paid off. Knowing how to conduct a legal research process is one of the essential skills an attorney can have. And it is something you should utilize for finding a job for you. How can you seriously represent a client's case when you do not know how to research on your own and for your own needs?

The More You Research, the More You Find

One thing is always true - the more research you do, the more things you will find. If you are going to rely on researching just a few places everybody else is using for their research, you are limiting the information you can find. But attorneys are quitting every day, creating open positions for you. Law firms and law firm branches are made daily. Clients with work are approaching firms daily. Opportunities are being developed for you every day; your task is to uncover them and shoot your shot.

You should never limit yourself by assumptions you have about law firms. There are more law firms than you think in every market. They will hire you even if they do not have an opening if they believe you can earn them money. It would help if you did not focus only on top law firms; they are not the only firms that can pay you well. You are never too junior or too senior for a firm; they usually hire anyone they believe will benefit them. You have to leave these assumptions behind and do your law firm research without them filtering it.

The Importance of Applying to Firms Without Openings

The best strategy to start your research is finding every law firm in your market and practice area. Do not look only at those with formal openings; that is a mistake. If you are in environmental law, find every firm in and outside of your city in this practice area and contact them. If they have work for you, they will hire you or invite you for an interview. When you do this, there is essentially no competition for you.

You are not only getting ahead of your competition, but you are also saving the firm money as they do not have to post an ad for the job or hire a recruiter and go through the recruitment process. Firms, especially smaller ones, also like it when you directly contact them as it flatters them.

The worst thing that can happen is that the firm will not write you back, even if you apply for open positions. So, there is no downside to using to firms without openings.


Access to information is essential for finding a job in the legal industry, especially during hard times. Do not let others control your access to opportunities and take matters into your own hands.

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