Law fairs 2014: freebies round-up

Ostensibly, the point of law fairs is to make a great impression on those holding the keys to your glittering future career: graduate recruitment teams.

That’s all well and good – and if you want advice impressing them at any future events then be sure to read our handy guide – but what is also admirable is the shameless freebie sweep, in which you grab the biggest free bag you can see and stuff it with each and every piece of merchandise that crosses your path, from the sublime to the ridiculously ropey. And that’s putting it politely.

This is Lawyer 2B’s definitive ranking of 2014 law fair freebies:

Bottles, flasks, cups and mugs

Brand impact: The fact that we could not be bothered to individually rank these items speaks volumes, and not just about our laziness. DLA Piper and newly-merged and monikor-ed Squire Patton Boggs have the same coffee flask for pity’s sake.

Freebies mugs

Herbert Smith Freehills did step it up a little with its purifying filter but perhaps it overestimates the care the average student takes over how much carbon their water contains. Still, swigging carbon-filtered water from a branded bottle may help to swing the balance on a hangover soaked up by a filthily greasy assortment of carbs and unidentified meat at 4am.

Re-branded King & Wood Mallesons went the executive route with a metallic/plastic flask (the centre one in the pic below). It’s been done before but is certainly a useful gift so long as it does not make your brew taste plastic. We’ll subject it to further tests on your behalf.

Freebies bottles
The danger of choosing a common product like a flask or mug to give away is you risk looking cheap when compared to a rival with more cash to splash

Bird & Bird and Ward Hadaway shouted ’athleticism’ with their offerings. One colleague and avid cyclist pounced on Bird & Bird’s version but Ward Hadaway’s was sadly neglected. Maybe that’s because it evokes either being attached to a drip or scaling a rock face, law firm bottle attached to your harness. Neither is a winner with us.

DWF went with a sippy cup, which we guess would be good for the exam-wracked or slushie enthusiast, but not for anyone in control of their faculties. 

On the mug side of things, Reed Smith and Osborne Clarke had the most notable designs. Both are proper china so you don’t feel you’re getting something that cost 15p to manufacture (DWF, we’re looking at you). You can draw on Reed Smith’s with chalk. Travers Smith has had the same gift in past years, so that doesn’t win points for originality – but it is quite fun. Osborne Clarke’s displays its branding clearly and is quite colourful, but cruicially isn’t something you’d be embarrased to be seen drinking from.

Originality: None whatsoever.

Usefulness: Very. Firms have students’ hydration needs extraordinarily well catered for. Some are even good for rock climbing, should you ever feel the need.

Verdict: Meh. Not dire. Not anything, really. We’ll give the prize to Reed Smith because it does allow you to be a bit creative.

iPhone accessories: Simmons & Simmons vs. Norton Rose Fulbright

Freebies iphone speaker

Brand impact: Simmons & Simmons’ turquoise hued iPhone speaker amplifier might not help you throw off your law student stereotype at pre-drinks but it does make a useful addition to any desk when tort law all gets a bit too much. Norton Rose Fulbright’s phone case baffled us, until a sportier colleague pointed out it was meant to strapped to your arm while jogging. It’s a good idea but also looks faintly ridiculous.

Originality: Simmons’ offering is not the first iPhone amplifier we’ve seen – both Berwin Leighton Paisner and Shoosmiths had a similar gift last year – but this is a clear step up in quality. NRF’s foam iPhone holder is the first we’ve seen of its type (though SJ Berwin went with a plastic case a few years back).

Freebies phone case
NRF’s iPhone case – functional if not beautiful

Usefulness: The iPhone amplifier actually works! We were doubtful, to say the least, but Simmons has clearly pushed the boat out here. Plus, they were giving away models for both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, which is very thoughtful of them. Norton Rose Fulbright’s case is a valuable addition to any jogger’s kit but its ugliness does count against it – shallow, we know. On the plus side, a former Lawyer 2B editor popped into the office when we were writing this feature and promptly snaffled it, saying: “This is just the thing to attach to my wheelchair.” So bonus points to NRF for being unintentionally disability-friendly.

Verdict: Both of these products will make you look like a complete dork, but throw off your self-conscious veil and you have new emergency speakers for when yours conk out and you’ll no longer have to grip your perilously smash-able phone while out on a run.


Freebies sweets

Brand impact: Hugely varied. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s colour-schemed pick’n’mix (white mice and raspberry laces) went down so well we had to scoff it on our train home, adding a touch of comforting nostalgia to a long, cold train journey.

Kirkland and Ellis’s bus does make the firm seem a little like an over-eager American tourist shoving their way through the souvenir tat shop – but its attention to detail is impressive. Number 321 to The City might just take you to the best work London offers, it seems to say. Plus, it contains (well, contained) an extremely generous quantity of very tasty jelly beans, adding that all important American flavour.

Slaughter and May’s elegantly housed jelly babies kept our sugar levels up while still at law fairs and the taste test found them to be made of superior stuff. Superior is not a word we’d use to describe Allen & Overy’s efforts however. On spying the tube we thought it could be a) an old style sherbet fountain, or b) a firework (deluded, we know). Sadly, the tube, with its skewiff label, contained substandard jelly beans. Such is life.

Originality: Dependent on packaging.

Usefulness: Limited, admittedly.

Verdict: Pedestrian but diverting. Kirkland and Ellis takes the prize for the best of the bunch, not only for the nice tin but for the sheer volume of sweets provided. Seriously, it could feed a family for a week.

Playing cards

Freebies playing cards
CMS went for playing cards: original, but what’s the message supposed to be?

Brand impact: We think the message CMS is trying to convey is “Play your cards right (and you’ll end up working here!)”. But the firm boasting its tax credentials loud and proud combined with the whole cards thing puts us in mind of a shady, smoky gambling den, where mafia bosses sit around, accompanied by their dodgy lawyer, who sometimes moonlights as their debt collector. (Disclaimer: we are sure all CMS lawyers adhere to the highest moral codes). At least every time you do play cards, the firm will be subliminally etching itself into your brain.

Originality: It is original, we’ll give CMS that. Definitely chimes a retro note and no other firm opted for cards. But maybe there’s a reason for that.

Usefulness: For us, cards call to mind dull times. And they’re of limited use, even in those. Childhood holidays to a wet corner of Britain where you sit trapped in a cottage looking out at the wall of slate grey rain while half-heartedly playing Happy Families (the card game, that is. Our childhoods were boring, not dysfunctional).

Verdict: A basement den filled with mafia, interminable family holidays, maybe even the occasional ill-fated drinking game. We’ll pass, thanks.

Pens: Slaughter and May vs. Osborne Clarke

freebies pens
Pens: the least original giveaway ever, but Slaughters and OC have at least pushed the boat out on quality.

Obviously there are a billion firms giving out pens so we went though a detailed and exhaustive selection process to narrow it down to two finalists: Slaughter and May and Osborne Clarke (Special mention should go to BT’s five-in-one highlighter, though. This is possibly the least imaginitive freebie ever – numerous firms have given them out in the past. It remains ludicrously popular – everyone gets excited when they see one. But it’s the least reliable gift ever: often you’ll come to use it for the first time and the ink will have dried up. Sure enough, that’s what happened with BT’s version this year. Firms considering their freebies for 2015: you have been warned.)

Brand impact: Very swish. Making a departure from the standard emblazoned plastic pen is a good move. They’ll probably kick the bucket sooner than your standard Bic but boy, you’ll look good until they do.

Freebies highlighter
The highlighter wheel: a popular but often disappointing freebie. We got five seconds worth of usage out of BT’s one this year, but Northumbria University’s from 2012 is still going strong.

Originality: Zero. But who cares when the results are this effective?

Usefulness: Indisputable.

Verdict: Although Slaughters’ weighty pen comes in the firm’s signature purple and its own case, it is, ultimately, just a biro. Osborne Clarke’s lighter model is metal and pleasingly slimline. What’s more, it’s been pointed out that there’s a tablet stylus on one end – something we completely missed on first viewing but which ties in nicely with the firm’s tech-y image. OC wins.


Freebies notebooks

Brand impact: In the main, very good indeed. Addleshaw Goddard went for moleskine-esque notebooks in a variety of colours and a smooth, tactile texture. The light bulb branding is on the right side of original too. Slaughters opted for a high quality desk diary, with plenty of additional information packed in for good measure. If you want to know whether it’s ruby or pearl that signifies a 40th wedding anniversary, how to spell commonly misspelt words or – and this our favourite – Latin words in common usage, you know where to look.

Simmons opted for a large spiral notebook, with a prettily illustrated front cover based on its graduate recruitment campaign. Showcasing its geographic spread, from Milan’s Duomo to Amsterdam’s canal houses, it makes a nice change from the normal corporate approach to graphic design (read, boring). We even saw some students nabbing copies from a box behind Simmons’ stall. Not sure they quite got the concept of freebies…

Originality: Negligible. But plus points for nice designs and clever additions.

Usefulness: Very good, better than pens. And everyone likes the feeling of a new notebook.

Verdict: It might be dull of us to admit it but we love a good notebook. It’s guaranteed that they won’t suffer the fate of being passed around to colleagues, greedy for any freebie they can get their grubby mitts on, or chucked in the bin, novelty value having worn off in seconds. Addleshaws wins the best notebook category for its classy effort.

Overall verdict

For its good quality notebook and iPhone speaker, Simmons & Simmons takes our award for 2014’s best gifts. Well done them. Everyone else – up your game next year…