Law fairs can pave the way to a training contract
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. 'Think about what you want to get out of the fair and if there are any firms you definitely want to speak to,' advises Jenny Briston, graduate recruitment and development manager at Simmons & Simmons. 'Fairs can be busy so identify the firms you want to speak to and be prepared to go back to them later in the day if there is a queue 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, using the organisational profiles and jobfinder tables, and talk to recruiters with confidence.
2. Demonstrate your research
Think about what you want from your training contract (or 'period of regognised 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. ‘It’s true that recruiters often have a (rather bizarre) tendency of remembering the people they’ve met at law fairs,’ points out Joanna Black, legal recruitment advisor at Ince & Co. ‘I’ve definitely scared a few candidates when they’ve come in for interview and I tell them I recognise them from somewhere and remember having talked to them.’
3. Don’t, whatever you do, ask ‘Why should I apply to your 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 2012 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, graduate recruitment manager at 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. 'Work out what matters to you,' suggests Jenny. 'Everyone is different and each person has their own criteria for determining which firm is right for them, eg culture, salary, type of work or location. If culture is your number one priority, focus your questions on the working environment, collegiality and flexible working to better understand what the working culture is like.'
‘We inevitably get a few odd questions at law fairs,’ adds Joanna. ‘One of my favourites was from a student who asked “Does Ince & Co do law?”. Given that we were at a law fair, it’s a bit worrying that the answer to this wasn’t obvious to the student.’
4. 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 – polished shoes and 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 Joanna Black. ‘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.'
5. Speak to current trainee solicitors rather than heading 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 Jenny. 'Firstly, freebie grabbing – either of the silent, swiping off the table variety or asking a question you are not interested in and then not listening to the answer just to take a freebie – is to be avoided. Secondly, while preparation is good, two A4 sides of questions reeled off in quick succession can be exhausting for the person you are speaking to and difficult to answer when stands are busy.'
6. Follow up with 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.’