How to make the most of law fairs

University law fairs provide the ideal opportunity to meet prospective employers. Just make sure you’re well prepared.

Your university law fair is one of the key career dates in your year. It is the only time you will get the chance to speak to a host of prospective employers, make an impression and make contacts.

Whatever year you are in, you can make a law fair work for you. In your first year, a law fair is a good way of familiarising yourself with the organisations and companies that are recruiting. Do your research and if you are feeling confident, speak to those employers which interest you and note down who you speak to. 

The following year, you can mention that you spoke to the individual or their colleague the year before, as many graduate recruiters return to the same university law fair year after year. They talk to hundreds of students during law fair season so will be unlikely to remember you, but will be impressed by your organisational and personal skills.

How to prepare

Preparing for a law fair is key. It is unlikely you will have time to visit every exhibitor so planning who it is vital for you to speak to and what you need to ask will ensure you do not miss out on an opportunity to ask the questions that really matter to you.

With the help of your careers service, which will have an exhibitor list, prioritise who to speak to. What are the key things you’re looking for in your career? Do you want to be a solicitor or a barrister? Work for individuals or commercial organisations? Be in the City or the regions? 

Do some basic research first. Use employer websites, career directories and, of course, Lawyer 2B. Ask about the recent developments and topical issues that are not covered in the brochure. Finding the answer to these questions will really help focus your applications. 

Ashurst graduate recruitment partner Helen Burton

Plan ahead

As a second- or third-year, it is vital to research and speak to all the organisations that interest you, as many will recruit their graduates from the second year onwards. 

Some universities offer preparation workshops so you gain the most from the fair. If yours does, go along – it won’t be the most fascinating afternoon you’ve ever spent but it will give you a head start, as many students that firms and chambers meet will not have the chance to attend anything like this. 

If you are particularly nervous about speaking to a certain employer then a good idea is to approach a few other organisations on your list and work up to it. By doing this, you will feel a lot more relaxed about the sort of questions you are asking and your manner will show your increased confidence.

Which questions to ask – and which to avoid

First of all, make sure that you have researched the firms you are most interested in and be prepared to ask questions that cannot be answered on the website. Having some interesting questions up your sleeve can really make you stand out as someone who genuinely wants to work for the firm in question. 

On the other hand, asking questions whose answers can easily be obtained from public sources, such as asking which practice areas the firm’s lawyers work in or where its offices are, may be taken as a sign that you 
are not really that interested in working in the law or for them.

Make the most of asking trainees what they do on a day-to-day basis to better understand the sort of work 
you would be doing if you joined the firm.

Find out about the strategy of the firm from speaking with partners. Better understand the culture of the firm by asking about its working atmosphere and diversity and citizenship strategy, as well as asking about any interesting initiatives, networks or societies the representatives are involved in.

Ask the graduate recruitment team what the firm looks for in the recruitment process and a successful application. Be as patient as possible as careers fairs are generally quite busy – you might want to politely join another person’s conversation as the representative may well be answering the question you are interested in finding out about.

Hogan Lovells graduate recruitment partner Ben Higson

A good idea is to keep a list of who you speak to. Don’t just note down the organisation’s name but also the name of the graduate recruitment manager or equivalent on the stand. This is crucial, as chances are you will not remember everyone you speak to after the event.

Try to subtly note down names after you leave the stand. A good idea is just to key it into your phone. People will think you are just checking a text message or email and no one will see you scribbling notes as you chat to them. 

Mind your manners

Dress appropriately – most firms and chambers appreciate students who make an effort by presenting themselves in the most professional manner possible. 

This might sound basic but Lawyer 2B has witnessed all kinds of slobbishly and shoddily dressed students while doing our rounds of the law fair, and if we remembered it for the wrong reasons, then your prospective employer certainly would have. 

You do not need to look boring or ultra-conservative but ask yourself before you set out how you would feel if you were standing in that law firm’s offices dressed as you would for a night in the pub. (Here seems an appropriate moment to throw in the overheard words of one graduate recruiter talking to another on the train back to London after a law fair in the regions: “Isn’t it the worst when they’ve been out the night before and still smell of stale booze?”)

Err on the side of caution. For girls, a dress or skirt with a cardigan, smart jumper or jacket will be fine. Flat shoes are recommended – you will be on your feet for a prolonged period and there is nothing worse than seeing someone hobbling around in heels that are obviously painful or that they simply cannot walk in properly. For boys, there is less freedom. Wear formal trousers, as jeans rarely look smart, and iron your shirt. Whether you pair this with a jacket, blazer or jumper is up to you, as is choosing whether to wear a tie.

Many organisations, especially large corporate law firms, often offer freebies. Obviously these are there to be taken but all students should observe freebie etiquette. The principal component of this is not to approach a stand just to mutter, grab something and walk off again. 

Another useful guideline is to wait until the end of your conversation to pick up whatever gift the firm has laid on, whether it be a branded mug, overly safe corporate memory stick or a lowly mint. Grabbing something straight away gives the impression that you are only talking to an employer as an afterthought, and if the gift is particularly outlandish it will make you feel rather awkward as the conversation takes place with you grasping it in your greedy mitts.

What to do afterwards

So, you’ve come away with a bag full of brochures, flyers and possibly pens… what next?

It’s worth making contact with the people you talked to from firms that stood out. You can use LinkedIn or email them directly – just a note to thank them for their time can go a long way. If you use LinkedIn, personalise your message; recruiters look for personality as much as brains and commercial awareness.

You need to do this soon after the event, ideally within a day or two. This shows you’re organised and serious about the firm. It also makes you more memorable. At a busy fair we speak to 40-plus people and RPC is attending 19 law fairs this year – so it’s good to follow up promptly while you’re still fresh in our minds.

Avoid emailing your CV, unless agreed, particularly if you’ve had a long conversation with the graduate recruitment team about their specific process and been told they don’t accept CV applications. You need to stand out for the right reasons.

If you have more questions, double check the FAQ page on the website. If they’re not covered then contact the firm directly. We’re always happy for you to call or email with questions; however, we won’t be able to tell you what to write in an application form – that’s over to you.

RPC HR and graduate resourcing manager Kali Butler 

Fair freebies – who gives what

Despite their networking and information-gathering potential, the most fun bit of law fairs is picking up the free gifts and deciding which firm has provided the best stash. In recent years, SJ Berwin’s colourful china flasks and Nabarro’s inflatable plastic chairs have caught the eye amid the innumerable pens and chocolates. We asked a few firms about their plans for the 2013 milkround.

 

Nabarro will be giving out dice and branded academic diaries.

Why that choice?

The dice tie in with our new graduate campaign and will hopefully make sense once this launches at the first law fair we attend (Kent on 16 October). The strapline of our new campaign is ‘Your future as a lawyer. Leave nothing to chance’ and we go on to explain why in our new brochure and micro site. If students collect a red die in their goodie bag at the fair they win an information day at Nabarro. 

From feedback received from our future trainees, students like useful things and academic diaries were mentioned a number of times.

Do you run any events on campus as well?

We run a series of presentations on ‘how to make the most of the law fair’. Also, various ad hoc events such as skills sessions and dinners, and we sponsor societies and activities such as mooting.

Do you find the gifts or events lead to an increased number of applications?

Yes, events definitely make a difference – they enable us to promote our opportunities (for example summer schemes) and gain access to a wide range of good students.

Regarding the law fair freebies, these are harder to track but are great for brand awareness and some of our previous gifts have been quirky and have attracted attention, for example apples, light bulbs (tied in with a previous campaign) and our inflatable chairs.

Nabarro trainee resources manager Jane Drew

Lawyer 2B’s verdict: The red dice is a cute idea – but given its slogan is ‘Leave nothing to chance’, is Nabarro taking a risk by running a campaign where an entirely random selection of students get a place on its open day?

 

Pinsent Masons is running a competition to win a Sonos music system. Candidates register their details at the firm’s stand and a winner is chosen at the end of each fair; they walk away that same day with their prize.

Why have you abandoned giving out free gifts?

Most of the gifts handed out at law fairs are quickly forgotten and end up in the bin or in the back of a drawer. If I can avoid creating more landfill, that is a positive.

Why the Sonos system? 

We felt its innovative design reflected the firm’s qualities. Pinsent Masons was recently shortlisted for the Most Innovative European Law Firm Award by the FT. We are also hoping the competition will generate a bit of social media interest.

Do you run any events on campus too? 

We run a large number of campus events and office insight evenings across the UK.

Do you find the gifts or events lead to an increased number of applications? 

Our competition has secured between 50 and 100 sign-ups at each fair. We plan to keep in touch with these candidates and see how many of them apply. 

Pinsent Masons graduate recruitment officer Margaret Ann Roy

Lawyer 2B’s verdict: “Nice iPod dock, where did you get it?” “From Pinsent Masons, a rather innovative law firm.” “Wow, how can I apply?” is how this gift works in Pinsents’ recruitment dreams. Joking aside, it’s a great gift and would have had us swarming to the firm’s stand when we were students, too many moons ago.

 

CMS will be using playing cards as its freebie.

Why that choice?

Because everyone has enough highlighter pens. We feel playing cards are something that students will be able to use in a social setting to promote the CMS brand.

Do you run any events on campus too?

We run a large number of campus events throughout the year, including our flagship employer presentations, skill sessions and networking events. This year students will also have the opportunity to join in with our on-campus competition ‘Around the world in 80 seconds’, where they can see how far a career at CMS can take them and also win some great prizes along the way.

Do you find the gifts or events lead to an increased number of applications?

Our events give us a great opportunity to interact with prospective candidates and it’s always nice to see students we have met at events come through to our assessment centres and interviews. Running events as part of our attraction campaign helps to increase the number, but more importantly the quality, of applications. 

CMS Cameron McKenna graduate recruitment team

Lawyer 2B’s verdict: We’re not sure which social setting CMS thinks students might use playing cards in other than for a regrettable Freshers’ game of Ring of Fire but it’s an imaginative gift and would definitely come in handy during a prolonged power cut. Just don’t use these cards with people you haven’t met before. They’ll think you’re weird.

 

Osborne Clarke will be handing out sticky tabs at university law fairs this year.

Why that choice? 

We want to provide students with a practical freebie they will be able to use while studying. At Osborne Clarke we’re all about establishing relationships, so we feel it is more important to give away something practical and make personal contact rather than just giving away something flashy and not making a connection.

Do you run any events on campus as well? 

We run a series of activities, both on campus and at our offices. These events provide excellent opportunities for students to meet representatives from the firm and get a general feel for who we are and get the opportunity to ask questions. Our graduate recruitment website lists all of our forthcoming events.

Do you find the gifts or events lead to an increased number of applications? 

It’s difficult to directly link freebies with application numbers. However, our sticky tabs are very popular and are used throughout the year so it is a great way to build awareness of our brand. 

Events are also very popular and we find students will refer to them in their applications. 

It is important to have a presence on campus and provide students with the opportunity to get the know the firm in a more informal setting. This definitely results in an increased number of applications.  

Osborne Clarke trainee recruitment and development officer Claire Kearns

Lawyer 2B’s verdict: On one hand, sticky tabs are a bit on the safe side. 

On the other hand, you won’t have to pay for your own Post-it notes or risk library fines by scribbling in books. An unlikely win.