First impressions count. Graduate recruiters need to be able to picture you in the role.
1. Plan which law firms you want to meet
Forward planning will help you to focus your research and time on the law firms that particularly interest you when you attend your campus law fair. Your law department or careers service should be able to provide you with the exhibitor list of graduate recruiters in advance or they may publish it on their website. 'Consider what you want to get out of the fair and if there are any firms you definitely want to speak to,' advises Tracy Foot, graduate recruitment and development manager at Simmons & Simmons. 'Fairs can be busy so make a list of the firms you want to chat to and be prepared to go back to them later in the day if you find a queue of students at their stand.'
Take a copy of TARGETjobs Law with you (or pick up a copy at the fair) so that you can research solicitors’ firms on the spot and talk to recruiters with confidence.
2. Demonstrate your research into law firms
Think about what you want from your training contract (or 'period of recognised training' as it is also now known) – do you want to work in the City on large transactions or with a smaller team where you have more contact with the client? Which areas of law are you interested in? Do you want to be part of a large intake of trainee solicitors or would you rather be part of a smaller group of new starters? Having considered these questions in advance will help to distinguish you from the crowd and show recruiters that you’ve taken the time – and initiative – to prepare.
The fact that the recruitment team has travelled to your university is a clear sign that they’re interested in recruiting its graduates. Recruiters do remember informed candidates – many will ask impressive students to get in touch regarding an interview for a vacation placement or even training contracts – so it’s vital not to ignore these opportunities.
3. Look the part of a solicitor at your university law fair
First impressions count. Recruiters need to be able to picture you in the role – a smart appearance can go a long way towards helping them to imagine you in the job. Waiting your turn to talk to the recruitment team and being polite might sound obvious but with so many excited students buzzing around, a lot of queue jumping occurs. Exhibiting patience and good grace will be noted by the team – you’d be surprised how important etiquette is and how much it is looked for and valued by recruiters.
'It can be difficult for students to stand out at law fairs; there are so many people and firms there, it can be overwhelming,’ says Ince & Co’s graduate recruiter. ‘More often than not you’re really only there to gather information. We don’t take it personally if people don’t come to talk to us. However, there’s a lot to be gained from making the most of the opportunity and speaking to a firm’s representatives. It’s nice when people come in for interview and say “I remember meeting you at my university law fair” as it helps establish a rapport.'
4. Speak to current trainee solicitors; don't dive in for the freebies
A law fair may be your only chance to ask questions only those already working at your chosen firm can answer. Trainees are the best source of information about the realities of life at the firm, so don’t ignore them in favour of the graduate recruitment representatives.
'There are a couple of behaviours to steer clear of to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons,' warns Tracy. 'Firstly, while preparation is good, two pages of questions reeled off in quick succession can be difficult to answer, particularly when stands are hectic, so try to ask questions that can't be answered on the firm's website. Secondly, freebie grabbing – either silently swiping off the table or asking questions just to take a freebie and not listening to the answers – is to be avoided.'
5. Don’t, whatever you do, ask ‘Why should I apply to your law firm?’
Think about the questions you’re going to ask each firm as part of your law fair preparation. ‘Why should I apply to your firm?’ sounds arrogant rather than confident, advised leading firms’ graduate recruiters at the TARGETjobs Law recruiters’ forum. Instead, you can ask about the firm’s culture, application process or training. ‘I’ve seen some impressive candidates who have done their research and who come to the stand with a notebook and a list of questions. When you can see that they have a different page for each law firm, it shows that they’ve really thought about who they want to target,’ says Sam Lee, head of recruitment at Womble Bond Dickinson.
Asking about a firm’s annual trainee intake will not impress (you can glean that information from the firm’s website) but enquiring about opportunities for early responsibility or secondments abroad, for example, will. By asking consistent questions to all the firms you meet you can compare answers and make a considered decision. 'Decide what matters to you,' suggests Tracy. 'Everyone is different and each person has their own criteria for determining which firm will suit them, eg training, salary, practice areas or location. If culture is your number one priority, ask questions about the working environment, social events and flexible working to better understand what the working culture is like.'
6. Follow up with law graduate recruiters after the fair
Contacting the recruiters you built a good rapport with at the fair shows initiative. ‘I like it when someone follows up with an email thanking us for our time if we have gone out of our way to be helpful,’ says Sam. ‘It’s also good to follow up if you think you’ve been impressive on the stand; it’s hard for us to keep track of everyone’s names so if you send us an email then we’ll have a record of you.’
Attending virtual fairs in 2020/2021
If your campus is open for visitors and government guidance allows events such as careers fairs to take place, you can take the opportunity to meet law recruiters in person. If not, look out for virtual fairs to attend instead. Most of the same advice applies: research law firms beforehand, ask questions on the issues that matter most to you and be polite.