It’s that time of year again.
Law firms will be stepping into recruitment overdrive, splashing out on banners, brochures and novelties in preparation for the various law fairs that will be occurring throughout the country in the next few months, as they compete for the best and brightest.
This is an excellent time for students and other seekers of training contracts to get into contact with the firms they want to work for, or to find out more about those they are unsure of. This guide is based on my own experiences of law fairs both as a student and a delegate, and should help you make sure you get noticed (for the right reasons!) :
Yes, every website, guide, and book says this. But it is absolutely vital! Questions like ‘who are you?’, ‘where are your offices?’ or ‘what are you practice areas?’ are not going to impress anyone. All this information will be on the firm’s website, in their marketing materials or on sites like Chambers or Lex 500. If you come to the fair knowing all the basic information, you can fill any face-time you get with the firm’s representatives with more intelligent, targeted questions which will get you noticed.
There is no point going to a law fair and meekly taking brochures. Law fairs are there for firms to market themselves to you, as much as for you to learn about them. Take this opportunity and try to get a feel of the firm from the delegates – do they like their job? What do they like about it? Do they seem friendly? Are they similar in outlook to you? Obviously everyone will be on their best behaviour and trying to impress, but even so I believe you can tell a lot about a firm by the people it chooses to represent it.
Even if you are not a naturally confident person, making this effort will really help you.
Ok, so those Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms have really nice stalls. But, when you have limited time you are far better spending it on firms that you really want to work at and that match your academic history and interests. Dedicating time to the right firms in this way will ensure that the right people remember you, and that you are able to target your applications to the firms you could actually see yourself working for.
I have heard people say things like ‘no-one ever gets a job from a law fair’ in the past. Wrong! While no one is going to be handing out a training contract on the spot, it is certainly possible to lay the groundwork to a successful application at an early stage. In my own experience as a delegate, I have taken down the names of promising people to be added to the list of ‘ones to watch’. This may not sound like much, but in a field where there are sometimes hundreds of applicants for every place, it may be the difference that gets you an interview.
Having done your research, you will know about the firms you want to talk to. This will let you prepare a few questions to ask your targets. I would try to ask things that you want to know about the firm that are unavailable from other sources, or about the experiences of the delegates. It may also be worth preparing a question about how the firm intends to compete with others, or intends to deal with changes such as Alternate Business Structures or the Jackson Reforms. These kinds of targeted, sensible questions will help you to stand out and show that you are switched on.
You should treat a law fair as the first stage of the interview process. This means that while you don’t need to turn up in a three piece suit, taking some care over your appearance and wearing smart-casual or office style clothes will help you put across the right kind of impression. You may prefer Death Metal t-shirts and a plaited beard, but ask yourself if the firm you are approaching is going to think they can put that in front of a client.
There are undoubtedly some pretty exciting marketing knick-knacks on offer at law fairs (I have seen memory sticks, smartphone cases and umbrellas!), and of course you will come away with a few bits from the firms you spend a while talking to. But don’t treat the law fair as a free shopping opportunity. No-one will be impressed by your masses of freebies, and going around the stalls to ask for the free things will not get you any closer to a training contract.
Listing off how many partners you know, how many vac schemes you have had or how many awards you have won is not going to win you any friends. Whilst it may be appropriate to drop certain achievements into conversation, your CV or application form is a much better forum for this. If you focus your time on learning about the firm you have approached, and letting them get to know you a little, you are much more likely to be remembered. Showcasing you as a complete person can’t be done on paper. You should also avoid opening with the question ‘I’m averaging a 2:2 – would you still be interested in me?’. I’m not suggesting that a candidate with a 2:2 wouldn’t get a training contract or be the right fit for a firm, but choosing to reveal this on an opening line is not going to create a great first impression. Get talking first, be personable, win them over – and then slip in the question!
Go to law fairs with a list of the firms that you want to speak to and have researched, and make sure you talk to each of them. Even if you are dead set on one firm, try to consider similar firms or even competitors of that firm – it never hurts to know more about the legal marketplace, and broader knowledge (and options) will be necessary if things don’t work out with your first choice.
This should go without saying, but unfortunately some people do forget to mind their manners, push in on conversations, talk over delegates, attempt to belittle the firm they are talking to or criticise the practice area of the lawyer they are speaking to. This is not going to do you any favours, so just don’t. Also, delegates tend to be proud of the place they work, so avoid expressions like ‘small firm’ or ‘just a regional firm’, unless the firm describes themselves in that way. Oh, and never tell the firm you are approaching they are a ‘backup option’!
Hopefully these tips will help you navigate law fairs successfully and get a bit more out of them… good luck!