How to survive: Open days
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29 November 2013
With the graduate recruitment market still in dire straits it is vital for all aspiring solicitors to make the most of an any opportunities that will enhance their chances of securing a training contract. Open days, for instance, can play a fundamental role in achieving this goal and should therefore not be overlooked.
Though from the outset open days may seem like casual events, if approached with the right mind set and with thorough preparation, they offer a useful insight into a firm’s culture.
Like any other form of contact with a firm, whether it be an assessment day or a conversation at a law fair, open days offer a great opportunity to get to know the firm, meet trainees, partners and the graduate recruitment team. Importantly, there are usually exercises such as negotiation games that mimic those you are likely to experience on an assessment day.
How do open days work?
Essentially open days are an opportunity to visit a firm at one of its offices, interact with some of the members of staff, ask questions and further your understanding of what life as a solicitor might entail.
One initial question worth asking is whether your travel expenses will be paid as this tends to differ from firm to firm. CMS Cameron McKenna graduate recruitment officer, Victoria Wisson, says that they do cover expenses: “Usually in cash on the day to save students being out of pocket. There’s a limit to what they can expense but this is currently under review for the next season.”
Law firms also differ in their understanding as to what an open day should seek to achieve. An indication of what type of open day you will be attending can be determined from the how the firm select attendees.
When considering any open day, your first port of call should be a firm’s graduate recruitment website. Here information about when to apply is available and the page will also contain a link directing you to the application form. DLA Piper and Camerons, for instance, require students to submit a CV. Camerons will screen CV’s and respond accordingly as will DLA Piper which also specifies a minimum requirement of three B’s at A Level.
Freshfields Brukhaus Deringer, meanwhile, runs different open days tailored to meet the needs of different applicants. This includes a two day workshop in January for non-law students, and two separate day long workshops in April, one for first year law students and one for penultimate year undergraduates. To apply for these days a detailed CV needs to be submitted containing academic results from A Level onwards. With regard to grades there is no specified level which needs to be met as the whole CV will be taken into consideration.
Herbert Smith runs a similar programme, providing open days in March, April and June for first year law students and penultimate year non-law students. Herbert Smith does find that these days are heavily subscribed to and competition is high. Therefore for those hoping to obtain a place should have consistently strong grades. It should also be noted that Herbert smith also runs an open day for those who applied for vacation but were not offered a place.
Lewis Silkin runs its open day programme during the months of March, April and May. Uniquely, it also appreciates that many people, whether they be undergraduates, graduates, mature students or those looking for a change of career, cannot always afford to give up a full day during the week. Therefore, it also organised an open evening in June this year. The graduate recruitment website makes it clear that the demand for a place on an open day or evening is high. As a result Lewis Silkin requests that candidates must expect or have achieved a 2:1 degree or higher. A well constructed 200 words also needs to be written expressing why you deserve a place.
Some firms also select their open day attendees on the back of vacation scheme applications. Weil Gotshal & Manges graduate recruitment manager, Jillian Singh, explains: “As candidates selected for open days are usually selected on the basis of their vacation scheme applications, those who are invited to an open day will generally be of the same standard as those offered a place on the vacation scheme.”
Norton Rose hold open days twice a month between January and May (five in total) for those who have not secured a place on a vacation scheme but still show the necessary potential to be part of the firm.
What to expect
Lawyer2B.com’s research into open days would suggest that all law firms tend to have a fairly similar structure to each other in so far as what the day entails. The day will generally involve a tour of the office, listening to talks given by the graduate recruitment team, a chance to meet some of the partners and trainees, whether it be a lunch or a discussion forum. There will also be a group exercise to help develop skills and allow students to grasp an idea of what it is solicitors do.
The negotiation exercises, for example, can be crucial as some firms do assess them. Weil Gotshal assesses the group exercise as well as having an individual written exercise where each person is expected to write about a side of A4 in response to a given question. In addition, there is also an assessed interview. In light of this Weil Gotshal’s Singh states that an open day really is a fast track to a training contract and a good alternative to a vacation scheme.”
How to approach the day
In order to create the best impression at an open day you should dress appropriately and be professional at all times, being polite and respectful to all members of the firm and fellow attendees.
If you have been invited to an open day as a result of an application that you have written it will be for a reason. Information gathered by Lawyer2B.com would suggest that this sort of an open day is very much part of the process to gaining a training contract. On a basic level, there are never many spaces available on a vacation scheme with more people eligible for a place than the spaces available. Therefore the firms that invite candidates to such an open day still mean business, viewing it as another way in which candidates can be assessed.
Such open days should be approached as if attending an interview. Wear a suit and make sure you know who the graduate recruitment team and the graduate recruitment partner are. The more research you do about the firm the more you will have to contribute. Asking good questions is key to standing out from the crowd and making that all important good impression. Brett Galloway, graduate recruitment manager at Addleshaw Goddard, confirmed: “Once the open day has taken place the firm will decide which applications they are going to consider for training contracts. Therefore if someone hasn’t got onto the vacation scheme it is possible to obtain a training contract on the back of an open day.”
Jillian Singh of Weil Gotshal adds: “Quite a few candidates have obtained training contracts on the back of an open day. Last year 4 out of 14 training contracts offered by us were to candidates who had attended an open day.”
If, on the other hand, you are attending a more casual open day Lawyer2B.com would highly recommend that you still take it seriously. Wearing smart casual seems to be fine but you will find that a substantial amount of people will also be dressed in suits. The most important thing to remember is that even though you may have only submitted your CV the firm has seen potential in you. This should be deemed as encouraging and maximum effort should be made to make the most of it. Again this should be done by some careful research into the firm which will give you something to talk about and be able to ask questions.
Once the open day has taken place, firms that have assessed you will usually get back to you and if not you should seek to contact them. Although, whatever sort of day you have attended it always helps to send an email of thanks. Claire Evans, graduate recruitment officer at DLA Piper, says: “If you enjoyed the day, a courtesy email always goes down well as it shows good manners and appreciation for the time and effort that went into organising it.”
Why are they useful?
Fundamentally open days are very useful as they can be added to the work experience section of a CV and should be mentioned in all applications. Attending any open day shows initiative and that an effort has been made to further one’s understanding of the profession.
As Claire Evans of DLA Piper says: “Attending an open day looks good on an application form as it shows initiative and a real interest in the career or that firm. It also proves that the person has not been spending their spare time sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle, but has been actively researching the law and improving their CV.”
Brett Galloway, of Addleshaw Goddard, reinforces this point. “Open days enable you to develop an understanding of a top City firm. That is something that is beneficial to any applicant.”
In summary, an open day is a great opportunity to get a head start. As well as needing to make a good impression on the firm, it is vital that the firm makes a good impression on you. As Victoria Wisson, at Camerons, points out: “An open day offers a real chance to think ‘could I see myself working here?’”
Case study: CMS Cameron McKenna’s open day
On Tuesday June 9th I attended an open day at CMS Cameron McKenna. Even though its open day is more informal than some I still found myself quite nervous as I was entering its offices.
The open day involved various talks and workshops and a tour of the building. To begin with graduate recruitment officer Victoria Wisson, gave us an introductory welcome talk, making everyone feel at ease. We were given a detailed booklet of all PowerPoint slides and various information about the day and the firm. Expenses were also dealt with.
Graduate recruitment partner, Simon Pilcher, then gave us a talk, where he conferred a very honest and realistic image of the firm, which for me was essential. I needed to discover whether I could see myself working at Camerons. He emphasised the importance of being commercially aware and explained how Camerons was seeking to deal with trainees in light of the economic downturn.
This was followed by workshops commercial awareness and negotiation skills. Both workshops involved a PowerPoint presentation by trainees before we got stuck in. These were both excellent as they were very similar to the types of work that you would be expected to do as a solicitor. This enabled me and the other participants to learn more about the profession and boost our confidence. The trainees sat in with the groups giving guidance and explanations, which was also very useful.
There was a good buffet lunch where we were able to sit with trainees and ask questions about being part of the firm and their own experiences of applications and interviews. Shortly afterwards we were given a tour of the building. This was more important than I had anticipated. By seeing the individual offices, research library and canteen, I was able to further understand the atmosphere of the firm, and the working environment that it is built around.
We also received a talk from a senior associate who spoke briefly about his role at the firm and then opened the floor to questions. This was an excellent opportunity to ask anything, from the firm’s future hopes, to the various training that all members of the firm receive. Even though we had been given to opportunity to ask questions throughout the day sufficient time was allocated for everyone to get a question in.
Finally, Victoria gave a very helpful talk on the application and interview process, with lots of top tips and good advice. This talk underlined why the day was so important. A full day at a firm allows for more attention to detail than you will get from a law fair or a phone conversation. Consequently, this will put anyone in a stronger position when applying.