Employer Research Guide

Which describes your research need?




One way to start figuring out what type of practice might suit you is to review an inventory of legal specialties.  Here is a fairly comprehensive list, with links to related resources.

The Official Guide to Legal Specialties: An Insider’s Guide to Every Major Practice Area, (Lisa L. Abrams, 2000), published by The National Association of Legal Career Professionals (NALP), is based on interviews with lawyers in thirty practice areas (most, but not all, in the private sector) who enjoy their work.  It contains attorney profiles and other information, including a great deal of data, about career tracks.   The book is available at the CDO and online through NALP and Amazon.

Vault.com, a subscription-based service available to Boalt students through a portal on the CDO web site, provides access to Vault Industry & Career Guidebooks.  Some of the guides are devoted to major legal specialties, including corporate law, litigation, labor and employment, bankruptcy and tax law.  Vault’s Career Resource Center contains “day in the life” descriptions of attorneys in various jobs.

Chambers Associate, a UK-based research company, has good summaries of over 20 major practice areas.

NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, maintains a website with extensive career planning information for law students, including information about hiring trends in the legal employment market, and links to additional resources that may be helpful to career searches.  NALP also makes its employer member directory available online.  The NALP Directory allows searches by practice area, geographic area, by organizations that hire 1Ls or LLMs, comparison charts, and creation of mail merge lists.  (Note that NALP members are, generally speaking, large firms which come to law school campuses to recruit.)  NALP also publishes annual “Perspectives” on the most recruiting season, with analysis and breakdowns by regions and “outcomes” (offers and acceptances).  Here is the most recent Perspective (Fall 2011).

The CDO’s web site maintains, and regularly updates, resources on various types of legal employment.  There are pages on Public Interest Careers, Public Service (Government) Careers, Judicial Clerkships, International Careers, and Academic Careers.  In the private sector, there are pages dedicated to small and medium firmsHere is a link to the CDO’s page on alternative legal careers.

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Vault, a subscription-based service available to Boalt students through the CDO web site, provides access to Vault Industry & Career Guidebooks.   Some of the guides are devoted to major legal specialties, including corporate law, litigation, labor and employment, bankruptcy and tax law.

The ABA makes many of its practice-specific member groups available to students, most of them for free.

Heiros Gamos, an international legal web site, has an extensive list of legal specialties and sub-specialties with numerous links to related resources (articles, legal authorities, specialty legal associations).

The FindLaw Professional Development Center includes links for many practice areas, with articles about current developments.

There is a professional association for almost every legal specialty; scanning newsletters and similar resources aimed at particular practice areas will give you a sense of the issues confronted by practitioners within that specialty.  The ABA and law.com web sites, among others, provide many links and search possibilities to locate specialty practice information.

Chambers Associate, a UK-based research company, has good summaries of over 20 major practice areas.

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Most databases of law firms include legal specialty as a search term.  Always consider the source of the data.  Some legal sites include only paid participants; others include only members of the sponsoring organization.

Martindale-Hubbell is the traditional directory of all attorneys in the U.S.  The online version is an extensive database of attorneys, searchable by practice area as well as other criteria.  It is the best general resource for finding smaller and mid-size firms.  A version of the same database, with more flexible search terms, is available through LexisNexis.

The NALP directory is a searchable database which provides copious information on legal employers.  It will generate a list of firms from geographic and practice area criteria.  (It also has a mail merge capacity for sending resumes and cover letters to firms on the list you generate.)

The Chambers USA Guide to the Legal Profession sorts attorneys and firms in various practice areas into tiers or “bands” and includes research-based commentary about different employers, including information about practice areas.

Westlaw has a database called “Profiler” which allows you to search for attorneys by practice area as well as geographically.

Rankings and Awards

In a few major practice areas, firms are ranked for their prestige and accomplishments.  The most prominent law firms appear in various rankings, usually updated annually.

Vault, accessible through the CDO website, offers rankings of firms in various specialties.

Law.com makes available many lists, rankings and surveys, including the preeminent American Lawyer rankings of the “AmLaw 100” and others.  You must register with law.com to access some of the rankings, but it is free of charge. Click on “Surveys and Rankings” on the left sidebar menu.  Alternatively, go through the American Lawyer website, which also requires registration (free).

Martindale.com has various “Top Ten” lists.

Chambers Associate profiles prominent firms, detailing aspects of associate life, based on telephone interviews with junior attorneys.

Chambers and Partners assesses top law firms and lawyers in the U.S. (as well as internationally) in various practice specialties.

Legal500.com, a UK-based research group, independently ranks firms in the US (as well as other global regions) in a wide range of practice areas.

Numerous local and specialized publications award various titles to firms and lawyers (e.g., “Mergerstat ranked the Firm among the 16 Top Advisors for the Drugs, Medical Supplies & Equipment Industry”).  If you are interested in a particular award, you can Google it; if you are researching a firm, you will surely find all such awards among its promotional materials.

LawFuel.com collects press releases announcing various awards received by firms and attorneys.

Superlawyers designates “outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas.”  Its lists are searchable.

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Researching specific firms will enable you to refine lists of employers you are interested in, prepare effectively for interviews, and make an informed choice if you find yourself deciding among different offers.  Just about every law firm has a web site, which will tell you all the essentials about numbers of attorneys, types of practice, and other basic information, as well as including any special recognition bestowed on the firm or its attorneys.  Firms with summer associate programs may include information about these programs on their web sites. While collecting and presenting information about the largest and most prominent law firms is a thriving business (e.g., the Vault guides; law.com; American Lawyer; Chambers and Partners, Career Center), it is more difficult to find independent information about smaller firms.

A basic search on Google or another search engine, for a firm or an attorney (include a geographic term and/or “attorney” or “lawyer”) can be revealing; consider narrowing your search with another relevant term (e.g., “patent,” “mediation,” or the name of a client or case).  You can also search the news content of Law.com for stories about firms and attorneys.

Martindale Hubbell, the traditional directory of all attorneys, has an online database (searchable for firms and for individual attorneys) which will yield basic information about an attorney, such as law school and year of admission to the bar as well as where he or she works.  The version in Martindale available through LexisNexis has more flexible search terms.

The State Bar of California has an “Attorney Search” function which will yield an attorney’s education, business address, date of admission to the bar, and whether he/she has a disciplinary record with the Bar.  Other state bar organizations may make similar information available.

Thomson Legal Record combines an attorney’s litigation history on Westlaw with the attorney’s profile on FindLaw. You can obtain an attorney’s recent reported cases and federal docket filings with links to full-text documents on Westlaw, alongside a detailed professional profile including an attorney’s litigation history.  It requires registration, which is free.  Westlaw has a database called “Profiler” which allows you to see dockets, pleadings and the like on which a certain attorney’s name appears.  (Note that while it can be impressive in an interview to cite a case which an attorney worked on, be alert to possible later case history which does not reflect favorably on your interviewer!)

When trying to find out about the less quantifiable aspects of a firm (its “culture”), try to use some sources which don’t come directly from the firm.  Feedback from associates is one of the best unofficial sources of information on law firms.  Summaries of survey responses by Boalt students who worked at firms in prior summers (starting with summer 2005) can be found on the b-Line.  Click on “Profile” on the main menu, then on the “Evaluations” tab, and then on the “Search” tab.

The NALP directory is a searchable database which provides copious information on legal employers, based on questionnaires which the members must submit annually.

Blogs are now a significant force in the legal landscape, and have become a popular source of information about legal employers.  Currently dominating the legal blog scene, Above the Law tracks facts (as well as gossip, irreverent commentary and sheer speculation) about many legal employers. Firms are known to release breaking news directly to ATL, in order to “manage the message.”  Its content is searchable by employer name.

Career Center, a venture of Above the Law and Lateral Link, provides research-based information about many firms, and allows side-by-side comparisons.

Chambers and Partners, an international source of information about law firms, has a companion site for prospective employees, Chambers Associate, with independently researched data and commentary by insiders.

If you are researching a major firm, it probably appears in various rankings, which often include commentary and analysis by the compilers, both about trends and sectors of the legal market, and about individual lawyers and firms.  The main rankings are:

∙  Chambers and Partners, which ranks top law firms and lawyers in the US and elsewhere in various practice specialties.  Chambers does independent research, reflected in their editorials.

∙ Vault.com, a subscription-based service available to Boalt students through the CDO web site.  Firms are ranked for, among other things, partner prestige, diversity, and quality of life.

Law.com contains many lists, rankings and surveys, including the preeminent American Lawyer’s annual “AmLaw 100” rankings and many others, including associate and summer associate surveys.

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Most, if not all, of the online law firm data bases (such as the NALP directory and Martindale) allow you to include geography as a search term.  Law firms with offices in multiple locations always list them on their web sites. The Vault Guides (which must be accessed through the CDO’s link, otherwise there is a fee) include several regional directories of major urban areas, and regional rankings of firms.  Chambers Associate includes convenient maps showing firms’ office locations.

For job searches focused on a particular location, and especially if you are interested in smaller firms, bar organizations in the state or city in which you are interested in working are a good starting point.  You might try the web sites of law schools near where you are interested in working; they may direct you to local resources.  Many areas have local resources listing local attorneys (for example, www.atlantalawyerdirectory.com).  Here are some links to regional bar associations:

State Bar of California

San Francisco Bar Association

Los Angeles County Bar Association


Many online law firm databases (such as the NALP directory and Martindale.com) allow you to include number of attorneys (within a range) as a search term.  If you have a certain firm or firms in mind, their web site(s) will include information about the number of attorneys at a firm.  The largest law firms appear in numerous comparisons and rankings, such as Vault (accessible through the CDO website), Chambers and Partners and American Lawyer, which will include the size of the firms.

The National Law Journal compiles an annual list of the 350 (previously only the top 250) largest US law firms, based on attorney headcount alone.    Here is a link to the 2012 list.

If you know you want to work in a smaller firm, your online search methods may have to be more indirect. You might search by geography and type of practice, then research the particular firms and attorneys you come up with to find out how many attorneys are in the firm.  Martindale.com is the only database which includes smaller firms (down to solo practitioners).  The version available through LexisNexis allows finer-grained searches (e.g., all firms in a region with between three and five attorneys).


Some resources, such as a firm’s own website or the NALP directory offer you information about firm culture supplied by employers themselves. However, you will also want to review such “inside” information as you can.  Evaluations by Boalt students of their summer experiences are available through the b-Line. Click on “Profile” on the main menu, then on the “Evaluations” tab, and then on the “Search” tab.

The Vault Guides (which may be accessed free of charge through the CDO’s website) addresses these questions with their “Quality of Life” rankings and annual list of the “Best 20 Firms to Work For.”  Chambers Associate and Career Center also offer similar information.

The American Lawyer’s Summer Associates Survey is a well-known resource which provides data about work, training, culture and quality of life, as well as overall rankings of summer programs (including results grouped by city).  Here is the link to a summary of the results for 2011.

Of course, direct contact with someone working at a firm, or a firm similar to the one you are interested in, is highly useful for getting a sense of what it is like to work there.  The CDO posts a listing of where recent grads are not working on our OCI web page around mid-June each year.


Be sure, in considering salary information, that you understand the firm’s compensation structure (e.g., are bonuses tied to the number of hours billed?), and know that employer expectations of hours worked are as important as dollars in determining real compensation. While competition among larger law firms has led to extensive disclosure of compensation data, it may be harder to get information about smaller firms from any source other than the firm itself.  You will have to balance your legitimate interest in compensation against the constraints of etiquette.  Published surveys will always lag behind the latest developments.

The employer information supplied in the NALP Directory includes salary, bonus and benefits information. NALP also publishes various salary surveys, which include smaller as well as larger employers, and are available in the CDO library.

Vault, Chambers Associate and Career Center all discuss compensation in their firm profiles.


Upheavals in the profession in recent years have raised new concerns about the financial stability of law firms and their responses to economic challenges.  While no one knows the future, and very few are privy to the inner workings of firms, there are some tools which can help you learn about the recent past and make educated decisions.   If you are interested in law firm economics, the premier blog is by Bruce MacEwen (writing as “Adam Smith, Esq.”)  For more general news about the profession, Legal Pad is a blog presented by the Recorder and offers news with a California focus.  The Wall Street Journal has a blog devoted to the legal profession, which naturally often looks at the business side of private practice.  If you want still more legal blogs, here is a list, with linksAbove the Law tracks facts (as well as gossip, irreverent commentary and sheer speculation) about many legal employers and is searchable by the name of the firm.  It has information about layoffs, compensation changes and deferred start dates.


Most large law firms have a spot on their web site devoted to diversity.  For the actual numbers, see the Minority Information section of an employer’s NALP directory entry.  NALP also has a diversity section and a list of GLBT resources.  NALP also houses a list of its law firm member diversity programs, events, and  initiatives, such as scholarships and fellowships.

Law.com has a site called Minority Law Journal, with various resources, including survey information about minorities in firms.

Many minority legal associations exist, which are likely to have information about firms and types of practice.  Here are some national ones; in addition, there are numerous minority lawyer associations at the state and city level:

Hispanic National Bar Association
Minority Corporate Counsel Association
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
National Association of Minority & Women
Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF)

National Bar Association (African-American legal organization)
National LGBT Bar Association

Vault.com (accessible free to students through the CDO website) provides Diversity Program Profiles on over 150 law firms.  Vault also ranks the “Top 20 Law Firms for Diversity,” and lists firms according to their inclusion of women, minorities, and gays, lesbians and bisexuals.  A print version of the guide, Vault’s Law Firm Diversity Programs, is available at the CDO.

The San Francisco Bar Association devotes a webpage to diversity issues, and includes a (mostly local) list of gay and lesbian contact information at legal employers.

Pro Bono

Firms which want to highlight recent achievements or awards in their pro bono record, often offer information about pro bono activities at their websites. Employers provide a statement of their pro bono policy as a part of their entry in the NALP Directory.

Vault.com (accessible free to Boalt students through the CDO website) includes pro bono rankings and a Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs in its employer information. (A print version of Vault’s Law Firm Pro Bono Programs is also available at the CDO.)

American Lawyer’s “A List” ranking includes pro bono as one measure of the success of big firms.

The Pro Bono Institute calls for an institutional commitment from large law firms to target 3-5% of total billable hours as a pro bono goal.  Here is a list of the Institute’s members.

The Path to Pro Bono is a brochure published by The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. It is designed to educate law students about how to ask firms that are potential employers about their pro bono efforts and practices. It also explains why evaluating a firm’s commitment to pro bono is so important.

Type of Client (including employment by the client as in-house counsel)

The type of law a firm or attorney practices is, of course, related to the type of clients they serve (for example, maritime law; education law). See the section of this document relating to legal specialties.

Law firms often provide information about representative clients at their websites and in their entries at http://www.martindale.com//.

Corporate Counsel magazine has an annual survey of firms representing the biggest U.S. companies.

Some of the major legal web sites have resources aimed specifically at in-house counsel.  Law.com has a sizeable area dedicated to in-house attorneys.  See., e.g., Corporate Counsel magazine’s website.

If you are interested in in-house counsel work, your search must leave the well-defined realm of law firm employers. The Association of Corporate Counsel is a central resource for in-house counsel, and includes career information. General (non-legal) job web sites may be useful for listings; define your search by using the term “attorney” “lawyer” or “counsel”. If you are interested in a particular company or type of company, research them directly. Only companies of significant size employ in-house counsel; therefore information about those companies should be readily available, although information about the legal department is often difficult to obtain.  As the company is the sole “client” of in-house counsel, knowledge about the business is essential for anyone looking for legal work within the company.

Inside Counsel magazine, a monthly publication for in-house attorneys, has an online edition.  It has various articles, surveys and connections to resources for in-house attorneys.

Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyer Locator allows a search for in-house attorneys and legal departments.

Minority Corporate Counsel Association focuses on minority attorneys in corporate legal departments.

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For job listings, start with the CDO’s b-Line; these listings are targeted at Boalt students (and alumni), and thus are more likely than general ones to yield good results.

Below are legal job listing resources.  The Career Development Office lists these sites as a service to Boalt students and alumni. The Law School is not responsible for the quality of the information and services they offer. (Note that many charge user fees, some of which are substantial.)  If during your search you find items outdated or changed, please let a Career Development staff member know.

Many all-purpose job sites, such as Craigslist, careerbuilder, jobster, and monster.com, include legal listings, and may be especially useful for in-house counsel jobs.

Law.com, a comprehensive legal news site, includes searchable job listings.

The American Bar Association has a link to legal job listings.

Martindale Hubbell has job listings.

Lateral Link has job listings (membership required).

Westlaw has job listings for students; click on the “Careers” tab on the home page.

The American Corporate Counsel Association website lists in-house job openings.

Hieros Gamos, a comprehensive international legal site, has searchable job listings.

Employers pay for listings on Ihirelegal.com (free to job-seekers who register with the site).

Vault, accessible though a portal on the CDO website, has job listings, both legal and non-legal.  Click the “find a job” tab.


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Updated June, 2015