Don't think that only associates or partners can influence whether you are offered a training contract.
Law firms’ open days – also known as workshops within some firms – are designed to give you a brief insight into the firm and how its trainee solicitors fit in. Firms run them throughout the year and they are aimed at both law and non-law students. Some firms offer open days to second years and beyond (while running specific schemes for first years known as ‘insight days’); others invite all year groups to apply for their open days.
Think of open days as an interactive brochure: as well as featuring office tours, talks and presentations, they often include opportunities to meet trainees and other staff. ‘Work experience and open days are an invaluable opportunity to see what working in a law firm is really like,’ says Emily Dale, trainee recruitment adviser at Slaughter and May. ‘Students can sometimes jump to conclusions based on reputation, but this isn’t always the reality. It is important to have all the facts, and first-hand knowledge is one of the best ways to do so.’
Having the chance to ask questions will help you make an informed choice as to whether you’re a good fit for the firm – and vice versa. ‘Remember, open days are as much about you getting to know the firm, its culture and expectations, as it is about the firm getting to know you,’ continues Emily. ‘Make the most of the opportunity to find out whether a legal career is right for you by speaking to trainees or presenters. You will find that most are more than willing to discuss their own experiences and the paths they have taken to get to where they are today, as well as the decisions they would have made differently. Not only does it show a genuine interest in the industry but it can be a great way to network. If you decide law is right for you, this is your chance to impress and show what a great future trainee you would be.’
Emily reveals her open day do’s and don’ts
- Do your research. It is important to have a good general knowledge of the firm you are going to so that you are engaged and can make the most of your time there.
- Do be enthusiastic. Firms need to know that you want to be there and will have a genuine interest in finding out more about a legal career and what this entails.
- Do treat everyone the same. It is a faux pas to think that only associates or partners influence whether you are offered a training contract with a firm. Relationships matter so ensure you are respectful to everyone you meet.
- Do be punctual. When preparing for an open day, plan your journey to the office in advance to help ensure you don't arrive late. This demonstrates you are able to manage your time and organise yourself efficiently.
- Don’t be caught without a notebook and pen. Open days can be fast paced with many different sessions taking place. You never know when you may need to jot down something important and refer to it at a later date.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You need to be able to make an informed decision, so make sure you think through your questions and check that they are relevant to what you want to get out of the day.
- Don’t miss the chance to network with lawyers and other firm representatives. Networking sessions can provide a more relaxed setting in which to ask questions and gain an insight into the culture of the firm. Building your professional network could also be beneficial in the future so make the most of this time.
Other tips from the TARGETjobs Law team for open day success
You may feel that you don’t need to prepare for an open day or workshop if it’s not part of the formal recruitment process, but some forethought and advance planning will help you make the most of the day. If you know you’re likely to get lost or flustered on the way, work out your journey, including planning extra time to find the right building and the right entrance, to help create a timely first impression.
Another essential part of open day preparation is to read through your CV. There are likely to be moments during the day – during coffee breaks or lunch, while you’re waiting for talks to begin or even while you’re waiting for the lift – when small talk is called for, so having some conversation at the ready will help you appear confident and unflustered. You may not be being assessed on your performance at an open day, but you’ll feel more relaxed if you can talk positively about yourself and your plans.
Use networking opportunities – over lunch or coffee, for example – to ask current trainees about what life is really like at the firm. After all, this is the kind of information you can’t find out any other way and is one of the benefits of attending open days. It can help you make an informed decision about whether a firm is right for you and can bolster your application if you’re later invited for an interview as it shows you’ve done some proactive research.
How open days vary from firm to firm
Not all firms run open days so you need to check the websites of the organisations that you’re interested in. However, even if a firm doesn’t have a planned open day, you can still phone the recruitment team to ask questions or ask if you can be put in touch with a trainee to ask them questions.
Applying for law firms' open days
Although open days are run throughout the year in most law firms, recruiters usually ask for applications to be in by a certain date rather than on an ad hoc basis. Some firms ask for a CV and covering letter whereas others ask you to fill out an online application form where you’re expected to answer questions such as ‘Why are you interested in attending an open day at X firm?.’
Different firms’ open days will have different functions. For example, some firms use open days as a discrete stage in their recruitment process while others will offer them as an alternative introduction to the firm for students who were unable to secure a vacation placement. Either way, make sure you add them to your CV – they show a consistency in your research and career planning.