To do or not to do – how to impress at law fairs

Are you nervous about a fast-approaching law fair?

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No? Well, perhaps you should be. Lawyer 2B has gone behind the scenes, asking graduate recruitment managers from many of the large, law fair regulars about what students often manage to do to ensure that they will never be on the receiving end of a training contract.

So, if you don’t want to embarrass yourself this legal season, take stock, take note and take it seriously.

First of all is the inevitable reminder to dress the part. It’s not an interview so no need to suit up but as one graduate recruitment manager says: “It would be quite nice if they looked they like they had washed or brushed their hair when they got out of bed in the morning.”

Another definite no-no is sportswear. Yes, your university-branded kit might showcase your extra curriculars wonderfully but so does the interests section on your CV. Leave it on the pitch. The same goes for coming straight from the gym.

Aside from looking vaguely presentable, another easy point to remember is freebies. Five words should be your guide here: exercise a modicum of restraint. Ok, so it’s not that catchy but it will serve you well. Yes, the freebies are there for the taking and if you are genuinely interested in talking to a firm then by all means take away while holding a meaningful conversation. This last part is the crux of the issue.

The primary irritant for graduate recruitment managers is the amount of unnecessary questions that are asked of them. Every year they attend tens of law fairs, speak to hundreds of students and are asked thousands of generic, uninspired, or worse, slightly stupid, questions.

One recruiter explains: “The main thing is asking really obvious questions. I don’t think students really appreciate that they are standing in a room full of fee-earner time. People have taken partners and they stand there asking basic questions or look completely disinterested. It only takes a couple of minutes to make a really good impression and people do remember that (impression).”

Asking ‘are you a law firm?’; ‘are you recruiting?’ and even ‘where are you based?’ is a bad start. If the answer to your question is patently clear and can be answered by the fact that a recruiter is standing at a law fair speaking to students then your reasoning powers won’t exactly shine.

Similarly, if your question is ill thought out or in the public domain – i.e – all over a firm’s website – then you’ve demonstrated a lack of both previous interest and basic research in addition to wasting your time. “At a law fair at a very good university last year I was asked whether trainees get paid, which didn’t necessarily fill me with confidence,” a recruiter says.

So what should you be asking? Glad you asked. Essentially, you need to be going into fairs thinking: ‘What information do I need to know to make an application to this firm?’ Yes, it requires research, thinking ahead and being brave but it pays off. You don’t need to know everything about each firm you might apply to but you do need to know about each one in relation to you.

A graduate recruitment manager says: “Someone who I thought was outstanding made a point of coming to us because they knew that we had an IP function and that is all they wanted to know about. It was part of the law degree they were studying and they realised that that was something they were very passionate about.

“So for them the law fair was very structured; they knew exactly the people they were going to and were asking what they could do to impress and what the firms were working on, finding out anything that would help with their application form.”

If you are feeling daunted by the prospect of stall after stall of keen-eyed recruiters surrounded by a mass of keener-eyed students all vying for attention then bear in mind the words of one recruitment manager who says: “We just want to get to know candidates, who they are and vice-versa.”

She adds: “If you’re uncomfortable asking questions then we’re there to lead. If you’re nervous a good starting point for anyone is ‘My name is such and such and I’m at this point in my degree’ – that is probably the best way of doing it.”

A final key point is of course remembering not to ask recruitment managers for legal advice of a different kind. As one graduate recruiter says: “There was one guy who came up and asked me if I could help him get out of jail. I didn’t keep the conversation going so don’t know if he was a law student but he wanted help to get off a criminal charge.”

Being brave, being prepared and being presentable should be your approach to law fairs. It may not be ground-breaking but it will differentiate you from the hordes of students milling around aimlessly looking slightly unkempt. Remembering these three things and the fact that a good impression is worth more than a memory stick really is all there is to it.