27 October 2011
Law fairs are great places to meet potential employers, but you have to get your approach just right. Husnara Begum points out the right - and the wrong - things to do
Law fairs are a valuable source of information for anyone who is serious about training as a solicitor or barrister. For many students these events will also be the first face-to-face contact they have with legal professionals and some may find it quite overwhelming. But with careful planning and plenty of research you should come away feeling more clued-up about the profession and the application process, as well as gleaning some useful contacts.
Most of the fairs are open to everyone, but some universities restrict entry to their own students. So if you do not want to risk being evicted from an event, check in advance that you are permitted to attend.
Exhibitors typically include law firms, barristers’ chambers and other potential employers such as the Government Legal Service or the Crown Prosecution Service,
as well as course providers. The number of exhibitors vary, with some fairs attracting more than others. The Manchester Law Fair, one of the biggest, typically attracts around 90 exhibitors per year. However, larger fairs also have their disadvantages. Manchester pulls in a crowd of around 1,700, so you may have to join lengthy queues before you are able to talk to an exhibitor.
Be patient and make sure you do not jump queues or interrupt conversations. Alternatively, return to the stand later when the queue has died down.
The reality is that, regardless of the size of the fair, there simply will not be enough time to talk to every exhibitor. Some events last just a few hours, while others are longer. The good news is that the organisers’ websites usually publish a list of exhibitors along with other useful information, such as opening times and details of shuttle bus services to ferry students to and from events.
Therefore, in advance of visiting a fair, have a look at which firms, chambers and course providers will be present and put together a shortlist of the ones you would like to speak to. You should then do some research on each of them by looking at their websites.
The legal press, including The Lawyer and, of course, Lawyer 2B, is also a useful source of information on law firms and chambers and will help you keep up-to-speed on the latest developments in the market.
For each firm you should try to identify the following basic information before attending a law fair:
- Where it is headquartered.
- How large it is in terms of partner numbers and turnover.
- How many overseas offices it has, if any.
- How many trainees it typically recruits.
- The practice areas it focuses on.
Some universities also provide workshops designed to help you prepare for law fairs. If your university is offering one it would be foolish not to go along.
Exhibitors’ stands will be staffed by members of their graduate recruitment teams, trainees and partners. You should aim to meet as many people as possible, but should obviously tailor your questions so they are relevant to the person you are talking to.
Whatever you do, never ask the following questions, as they are guaranteed to create a very bad impression:
- Are you a law firm?
- Do you practise criminal law? (when it is obvious a firm focuses on commercial work).
- Where are your offices?
Other comments that are equally offputting:
- Tell me a bit more about your firm.
- Why should I apply to your firm?
Spend as much time as possible talking to trainees as this will help you get a feel for what a firm is really like. Indeed, you may find it less intimidating than talking to more senior people. That said, it is important to talk to partners and members of the graduate recruitment team. Whoever you speak to, never ask questions to which you can find answers on a firm’s website or brochure.
Legitimate questions for members of the graduate recruitment team include:
- What are you looking for from applicants?
- When is the best time to submit training contract applications?
- Do you recruit for vacation schemes throughout the year?
When you are talking to course providers you should try to find out how many places they offer, whether they provide any financial assistance towards course fees, what core subject areas they cover, whether they have split their Legal Practice Course (LPC) in two, their stance on e-learning and which law firms they work closely with. Many law firms, notably the large City players, have preferred course providers.
However, avoid asking too many questions. Law fairs are a forum for having a quick chat with exhibitors, so you should spend no longer than five to 10 minutes talking to each firm.
Make sure you act professionally throughout the day. For example, do not grab freebies unless they are offered to you and do not approach a stand while talking on your
mobile phone. Also, leave your jokes, especially those about a law firm’s name, at home. One student walked up to the Slaughter and May stand at a law fair a couple of years ago and said: “Great name.” His conversation did not progress much further.
It is not necessary to splash out on a brand-new suit, but do try to look smart as this will create a good impression. Also, we suggest you get rid of your tongue or eyebrow piercing and leave the baseball cap at home.
Remember, if you dress smartly you will immediately feel more professional. And ladies - it is advisable to wear sensible shoes because a lot of walking is involved.
Freebies are part of the law fair experience, so do not be surprised if you leave weighed down by highlighter pens and memory sticks. But do not let them cloud your judgement.
It is also worth mentioning that law firms are generally on sell rather than buy mode during fairs. They want to impress you as much as you want to create the right impression. Having said that, do not expect to walk away from a law fair with offers of work experience or invitations to open days. And although there is no harm in taking a copy of your CV, most of the larger firms will not accept them as they now have online application forms.
Last but not least, take a note of all the people you have spoken to. It is not uncommon to wake up the next day surrounded by brochures but with no clue of who you met.