Hayley Marsden, a member of the Leeds JLD committee, writes about the value of law fairs for students and also those behind the stalls.
There are an increasing number of different takes on the traditional law fair, for the addition of a networking event, panel session or mentoring scheme launch. Some universities arrange separate fairs to focus on keeping talent at firms within the local area. The article below still assumes the traditional type of law fair, with a number of firms each having a stall, but the principles could be applied to any of the other type of sessions.
Above all, do some research. Most law fairs will advertise which firms and organisations are going to have a stall at least a few weeks in advance. To make the most of your time, target the firms you really want to find out more about. Find out what information is already easily available from their website or their listing on legal websites.
There are of course a number of standard questions that you can ask. A particularly good question is regarding the firm’s attrition/retention rates for trainee solicitors. It is never too early to be thinking further down the line! If you have a unique question, or a question that you can put in a different way from how it might normally be asked, you will stand out from the many other students at the fair. Firms do take down names and notes to cross reference with vacation scheme and training contract applications at a later date.
At the same time, make sure you ask the right questions for you. If you notice something in particular as part of your research that you would like to know more about, such as secondment opportunities or a niche practice area, ask about it. If you have questions about the recruitment process or are perhaps concerned about your grades, this is a good time to find out more information.
There will undoubtedly be some excellent ‘freebies’ on offer at the stalls, some of which prove very useful whilst studying. However, it is advisable only to take the promotional materials if you have made some conversation. If you are completely stuck for a conversation starter, make a brief comment on the materials and use it as a springboard to open up the conversation for your questions.
Finally, the best questions you can ask are generally personal ones. After all, most people can generally talk about themselves.
For those behind the stall…
To tie in with the above, personalise your answers too. It’s often easier to talk about one’s own experiences. Some students will be reassured at finding out about the process you went through when trying to secure a training contract or other position. It can also give a clearer insight into the firm. A person who is enthusiastic about their job is one of the best possible advertisements. Using your own experiences, for example which aspects of your application were picked up at interview (for your current or any other firm), can be a good way to answer potential tricky questions while providing real insight.
It is possible to be caught out by a question! It is also ok to direct them elsewhere, if you know where the answer can be found. You can also use it as an opportunity to find out something you might not have known about your firm previously.
As most people attending the law fair on behalf of a firm are likely to have been through the event as a student in the not too distant past, they will be well aware of the pressure and competition in securing a training contract. If your firm has particular requirements which the student is concerned about, try to address these in a constructive way. It is possible that you may end up with a situation where, however awkward, an element of realism is required. A good way to deal with this is to encourage the student to properly consider their own attributes and the type of work or firm they really want.
It can be difficult to know how much time to spend talking to any one student or group of students, particularly if they are interested in the firm and engaged with the conversation. An organised or interested student may follow up on a conversation at a law fair, particularly if your details are readily available on the firm’s website. If you are unsure how, or even whether, to respond, it is advisable to speak to a member of the recruitment team.
Use any time spent at a law fair as an opportunity for you as well. If you are on the stand with someone from HR, or even the partner in charge of recruitment, take the opportunity to talk to them during any quiet periods. Volunteering to attend a law fair, or get involved with any other aspects such as a mentoring scheme, will reflect well upon you when it comes to progression with your firm.