Attending law fairs is the perfect opportunity both to assess how well suited you are to the firms you are interested in and make yourself as memorable as possible. Remember that in the competitive and unpredictable world of applying for training contracts, the odds are stacked against you. This is a unique chance to impress your prospective employer and ensure that your application ends up in the ‘yes’ pile. So here are my 4 golden tips for making a lasting impression at law fairs.
It seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many law events I have attended so far this year, to hear a fellow undergraduate at the stand of a dream law firm asking “So what is it you guys do?” Don’t be that person. The internet is a glorious thing. Get on your law faculty’s website and see who is going to be at the fair. Make a list of those that you are most keen on meeting. Then, find the firms’ websites, look at what their core practice areas are, their sectors of expertise, where their offices are, how their traineeships are structured, and even who their clients are. If you want to be extra impressive (or a borderline stalker, depending on how you look at it) you can trawl their website to see who their graduate representatives are, and see if you can find out a bit about them before you meet them.
2) Dress to Impress
You are meeting a potential employer for the first time, so if you do nothing else, dress appropriately. The average person takes around seven seconds to make their assumption about somebody they meet for the first time. If you’re wearing jeans, or leggings or are covered head to toe in shiny jewellery, you can guess what people might be thinking in their heads.
For the men: a navy blue or black suit, a properly ironed shirt, and a tie. The same applies for the ladies, although you also cannot go wrong with a smart casual (modest length) dress and a blazer.
3) Ask the right questions
Now that you’ve aced your seven seconds, you need to start talking. But before you start rambling you should introduce yourself. Be confident, friendly, don’t forget to smile and offer a nice firm handshake. Now you can say something along the lines of “Hello, my name is Mounah. I am a law finalist at Aston University. I am in the process of preparing for this year’s cohort of applications and FirmName are in my top 5. Could I ask you a few questions?” You’ll obviously have to prepare a list of burning questions for each of your favourite firms, or you’ll probably not have much to talk about when you get there. Write them down if you have to as you’ll look much more organised this way.
So what questions should you be asking at law fairs? Remember, you are constantly being interviewed from the moment you shake the recruiter’s hand, so don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t ask silly questions about the firm or the training programme that you could have easily picked up from the website. This will not leave a good impression and will instead imply that you are unprepared. The typical approach is to find out what they think is the best thing about their training structure, how they ensure trainees are looked after and what they look for in an outstanding application. If you’re speaking to a current trainee, ask them what they think made their application stand out, what tips they have for completing the form and why they chose that firm over its competitors. You can also ask them about their daily tasks, how much responsibility/client contact they get and what their favourite seat has been so far. If you want to be even more impressive, try to show off your commercial awareness and ask their opinions on what current threats or opportunities the firm/legal industry/client sectors are facing. This will also help you when it comes to filling out your application, as all firms want to see that you can be business minded.
4) Follow up
Before you leave the stand, shake the representative’s hand again and thank them for their time. This is also the time to ask for a business card. Once you get home and admire all the freebies and branded pens you’ve acquired, you can then start making a decision about which law firms stood out the most to you. This could be because of the training programme, how happy their staff seemed, their areas of expertise, their culture or their location and benefits. Wait a few days, and then gather together the business cards from your favourite few. Drop them an email to thank them for coming and ask them if you can keep in touch for any other questions you may have. If they are local, maybe ask the trainees you met if you can buy them a cup of coffee whenever they're free. This means that they will have more time in a relaxed setting to share more about their experiences.
The best thing about meeting the faces behind the firm is that you can now talk about them in your applications. If you’ve made a good impression, the person reading your application is sure to remember you, and if they don’t, at least they know that you made an effort to meet them. If you are successful in getting to see them again, i.e. at insight evenings and open days, make sure you look out for the people you’ve met already and catch up with them. The rapport building should never end.
By Mounah Abdallah