Ready money: The official Lawyer 2B guide to getting cash out of law firms

From booze-ups to interview competitions law firms are often looking to raise their profiles through the sponsorship of student activities. Gemma Charles looks at ways of gaining access to their funds

Need a bit of care and attention? The Law Soc Adoption Party is the perfect solution. With loads of free alcohol & your new Mummys & Daddys [sic] ready to show you the ropes incest not uncommon!!!

So reads the in-your-face law society website of one of the UKs top law schools. It goes on to thank the fantastic law firm sponsors, adding that the Christmas and summer balls are regarded as two of the best events of the year.

They are always nights to remember or not, if the copious amount of free wine is anything to go by!!! boasts the website (being the nice guys that we are at Lawyer 2B we wont name the society in question in case the raucous tone puts off any future sponsors).

Yes, law firms, like fairy godmothers, make the student utopia of free booze an all too earthly reality. Balls, drinks nights, dinners and shindigs of that ilk usually see the law firm stumping up either some cash towards it or fully arranging social events with the help of the society. In return, they typically get their name on the tickets and send along a few trainees to chat to interested students, which is no hardship as Lawyer 2B knows of at least one lucky final-year student who left one such event on the arm of a Clifford Chance trainee. If the event is a major ball, stuff such as bunting and programmes could also carry the firms branding.
It is not just about booze, though. For those of you wanting to come out of university with more than just an alcohol-saturated liver, firms offer opportunities for you to brush up on your legal and professional skills by supporting events such as mooting competitions and interviewing sessions. Firms also sponsor sporting events which, where kit and training tops are concerned, has the added advantage of a longer shelf-life than a one-off social event.

Because of a law degrees direct link with the profession, which, lets face it, is not short of cash, law students are in the enviable position of being both courted and groomed by their future employers.
When asked, firms were coy about the amount they spend on this sort of activity, but privately they said that a ball park figure of between 40,000 and 50,000 per year was about right.

Getting a share of the spoils depends largely on where you are. The magic circle and top commercial firms which are the ones that can afford to splash out on sponsorship spread the bulk of their funds around 15 universities. Competition for law firm involvement, therefore, is keen.

I would say almost on a daily basis we receive a call, a letter or an email asking us to sponsor something, particularly from Oxford and Cambridge, where they have the colleges as well as the faculty, says DLA graduate recruitment manager Sally Carthy. I dont think any firm would be able to cough up for every request they get.

Clifford Chance says that it spends around 50,000 a year on this type of activity and funds everything from balls to supporting the legal advice clinics at Manchester University and Kings College London (see box).

Julia Clarke, the Clifford Chance partner with responsibility for graduate recruitment, says that her firm gets involved with around 20 different universities. We do try and spread our support, she says. What were looking to do is events at a range of universities rather than just a very small handful.

However, a Norton Rose spokeswoman sums up the feelings of most law firms when she says that Norton Rose considers requests for involvement from a variety of universities, but admits that it targets those universities we regularly recruit from.

To get to first base the considering stage as it were you need a good proposition and to sell it well to the law firm. It is true that there are some law schools that will get more attention lavished on them and so find it easier than others, but no society can expect to have money thrown at any harebrained idea they dream up.
Have a proposal ready to email, because they will ask for one, recommends Gayatri Sehdev, president of the Cambridge Law Society, which this year brought in around 40,000 in sponsorship.

Clarke says: Show that youve thought about what the law firm will get out of it and what they might want, rather than just a blank request for a cheque. And be flexible and amenable to discussion rather than asking for a yes or no answer.

Clarke says that she tries to be proactive rather than just wait for the letters to come in. She explains: We do respond to demands as well, but our ideal is to say lets approach the law society and this is what well do.
Suzanna Kirkham, the former joint social secretary of Exeter Universitys Bracton Law Society, says that the 7,000 levered in while she was in the post came largely from the efforts of the society.

I dont think we would have got hardly anything. The only firms that have genuinely sponsored us without question have been Wragge & Co for the mooting and Burges Salmon has always sponsored our kit.

And Cris Ley, at UCL, says that he has had to be exceptionally proactive. Of the 100 law firms that I contacted, very few even wrote back to say thanks but no thanks, he notes, which illustrates how hard it can be to make headway when trying to attract sponsors.
Also, make sure you are applying at the right time. Tom Phillips, the former president of Cardiffs law society, applied to Cardiff law firms in June, but was told that budgets had been done in February.

The bad news for students is that it is getting tougher to get the law firms to loosen their purse strings.

One top 30 firm revealed that it would not be sponsoring any events whatsoever due to its precarious financial situation. The graduate recruitment officer, who for obvious reasons wanted to remain anonymous, says sorrowfully: Student drinks and that sort of thing are always the first to go.

Kirkham, a final-year student, says that in recent years it was easier to get money. We still get it in, but its not as easy, she says.

Having enthusiastic people badgering away at the firms and following up on calls and emails undoubtedly helps. Sehdev says: Last year we got about a quarter as much as we did this year, but that is because I work hard.

So, is the thousands of pounds that firms spend each year money well spent or an unnecessary expense? After all, the unfortunate firm that has cut out this type of activity still gets trainees applying and still fills its places. And is helping students to get drunk a dignified activity for a firm to involve itself in?

A couple of years ago a law society ball at Cambridge University, sponsored by Norton Rose, ended in controversy after a toilet was damaged. The committee, having forgotten to take out an insurance policy, was left with a 900 bill. It was not the first time this had happened; two years before, items went missing after the ball and again the committee had forgotten to get insurance, but this time were left with an even larger bill of 1,500. Not exactly the kind of publicity a law firm would want to be connected with an event it had sponsored.

DLA has moved away from sponsoring socials. Carthy is not a fan of alcohol-fuelled events. She says that the policy is a conscious choice on our part. She adds: I do know that one year we sponsored a particular ball and there was a lovely banner produced for it. The fact is that photographs came in to us to say how wonderful it was, but the photo showed everyone with their head down eating. That banner probably went unnoticed.

One of the new events Carthy directs her sponsorship budget towards is a client interviewing competition that involves 24 universities at the outset before working its way to a grand final. With something like the client interviewing competition, we feel that youre actually going to a wider audience because theres more than one university taking part, she says.

DLA also sponsors and runs skill-building events. Tapping the career-minded students is what Carthy wants to do. The more shrewd students will be looking to develop these skills so you may end up with a higher calibre of applicant, she says.

But fear not, students, the days of law firms sponsoring jollies are far from over and most of the top 30 firms still think there is some worth in holding drinks evenings and sponsoring dinners.

Clarke says that when Clifford Chance hosts a ball it also holds a skills session for balance. For Clarke, social and career-orientated events are a chance for students to put a face to the name. As the worlds largest law firm its profile could not really be higher, but Clarke argues that just having a profile is great, but profile without meeting people from the firm can actually lead to misconceptions or perceptions which arent actually held out.

According to students, sponsored events of any kind can directly affect where they choose to apply for training contracts and work during summer vacations.
Kirkham has won a training contract at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert a law firm that has very good relations and is supportive of her law society. When I came to do my applications, the names that Id heard of in the past three years were automatically the names I applied for. Barlow Lyde & Gilbert has always been a familiar name to me, she says.

We had 60 firms down here for our law fair, which was the biggest one in five years. But if youre a first or second year, if youve heard of five or six names you are going to walk up to those stands. You think the familiar ones are the ones worth applying to, she adds.

While acknowledging that there are a few students who get obliterated on wine and port and barely remember the events, never mind their sponsors, Ley says that socials do have a positive effect. A lot of young people are frightened by the prospect of City careers, even if they want to do them, he says. One massive benefit is that it creates a friendly impression of the firm. With a career event theres a lot to be gained, but very few students will apply on that alone. If a student can associate a firm with a social event it brings them up in their estimation.

Eight top tips for attracting law firm cash

1. Get planning and perfect your product
In most cases law firms are not just going to throw money at you. Plan out a clear submission and be prepared to fit around what they might want to do. Be flexible. Cardiff Law Society ran a mooting competition this year for the first time but held off asking for sponsorship as the committee wanted to have experience of running the event before asking a law firm to back it.

2. Find the right medium
One graduate recruitment manager recounts how law students offered her a chance to sponsor a boat, but she turned it down as the prospect that your logo was going to be capsized or turned over on a regular basis was not an attractive one.

3. or create an attractive new one
Both Cris Leys at UCL and Oliver Stevenson at Newcastle University were able to bring in more money and increase communication when they created a newspaper and a website respectively for their societies. Leys edits a magazine entitled Silk & Brief and says that the display advertising he has managed to sell has brought in 1,600 in extra revenue.

6. Sing your own praises
If your law society has traditionally been overlooked for sponsorship, get some information about the law school or the candidates that might overturn perceptions. Did your school get a high rating in the Higher Education Funding Councils Research Assessment Exercise? Or does it have a good academic record with a respectable average class of degree and a healthy amount of firsts? Or does sponsoring your society offer the chance for the firm to target a diverse set of students?

4. Team up with a
neighbouring university
If you have a relatively small law society you could run joint events with a university nearby that may be in the same boat. This would mean double the exposure for a sponsoring law firm.

5. Ask at the right time and
fit your elections around it
Budgets are done at the beginning of the calendar year in preparation for the new financial year in April. You want to be hitting the firms with requests early in the year. If you can hold your elections fairly early then the new committee can start thinking about applying early on or they may find they have missed the boat.

7. Get them returning for more
Once you have secured sponsorship, look after any trainees or lawyers sent to attend the event, give feedback on how it went and make sure you check out the firms stand if it visits the university for a law fair. It will be more likely to repeat a sponsorship if it felt it was treated well.

8. Look elsewhere
If the law firms are not forthcoming then it might be worth considering bringing in some other sponsors for your society. A local pub might be prepared to offer some free sandwiches or discounted beer if you can guarantee a certain amount of people for an event. Or it might sponsor your sports kit.
And do not forget that other professions may be interested in getting to know law students. After all, only 50 per cent of law graduates end up as lawyers.

Hey big spender…

…where Clifford Chances 50,000 student sponsorship budget goes:

-Law balls at Bristol and Sheffield and a Groove Armada night at Oxford.

– Focused skills sessions, such as interviewing skills at Manchester and the UCL client negotiation competition.

– Support for the legal advice clinics at Manchester and Kings College London.

– Sponsorship of Leeds Insight into Law meeting for non-lawyers.

– Presentation of a case study for Cambridge University Asian Lawyers Association.

– Sporting events such as law society rugby shirts at Exeter and a three-way hockey tournament between Magdalen College and Lady Margaret Hall from Oxford and a Clifford Chance team.