Law fairs and firms open days hints and tips

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Compiled by DLA Piper - www.dlapiper.com

There are two great ways to finding out more about different firms and what they do.  First you can visit a local university law fair.  Lots of firms attend these to advertise what they have to offer to students. 

Secondly you can apply to visit an open day which will give you a more personal account of life in that particular firm.  The format of these varies from firm to firm but generally there are a range of presentations from different parts of the business, and plenty of opportunity for you to talk to a range of people from the firm. 

Below are some simple pointers of getting the best from both of these type of events:

University Law Fairs

Attending a law fair is a simple way of obtaining a lot of information from a variety of firms.  Although the vast array of brightly coloured stands and glossy brochures may seem overwhelming, if you follow the tips below, you will find that it is time well spent. 

  • You will present a far more professional image at the fair if you have done some preparation in advance.  Try to find out which law firms are attending and obtain some basic facts about each one.  You can use this information to plan which firms you would like to speak to and the event will be more productive for you. 

  • Try to speak to different types of firms.  It is all too easy to be drawn to the large corporate firms, whose names are already familiar - but what if they are not right for you?  By keeping an open mind at this stage, you will start to identify the things that are important to you in your choice of firm and you will gain a clearer picture of the sort of working environment which will suit you.  After the event you can apply these criteria when searching for firms to apply to.

  • Dress smartly.  Unless instructed by your university, you do not need to wear a suit, but a smart appearance will help you to project a more professional image. 

  • Prepare some questions to ask at the fair.  Ask each firm the same set of questions so that you can make comparisons between them.  As a guide, five questions is probably sufficient, but do ensure that these questions have not already been answered in the information contained in the law fair programme.  You might use this as an opportunity to obtain extra information which will help you in an interview situation, for example, issues which are important for the firm at the moment.  It can also be helpful to find out what firms look for in their trainees.  Take a few notes after speaking to each firm so that you can remember what each of them has told you.

  • Arrive early and allow yourself plenty of time to see all the firms which interest you.  It will probably take you longer to get around the fair than you expect, as many of the stands will be busy and you may have to wait to talk to a firm's representatives.  If you know that you have lectures, plan your visit around these.  Do not arrive at the fair with only half an hour to spare, as it will be impossible to talk to all the firms you had planned.  You will find yourself running around, grabbing brochures and the opportunity to meet the people who really know the firms will be lost.

  • Approach each stand confidently.  Many students feel intimidated at these events, or are too embarrassed to talk to the firms.  Remember that the firms are there to sell themselves to you and to make you want to apply to them.  This your opportunity to assess them and the types of people who work there - after all, it is important to know that you will be able to get along with your future colleagues!

  • Speak to the firms' trainees.  You might find this less intimidating, but they are also doing the job to which you are aspiring.  You can ask the trainees what it is really like, what sort of training environment the firm has and how the training programme is run.  More importantly, you should find out what sort of work they have been involved in to see if it is the sort of work you will enjoy.  It is also good to be reassured that you will not be spending your first six months at the photocopier!

  • When speaking to the stand representatives, get yourself noticed for the right reason.  Firms will see thousands of students in the course of their university visits and it is impossible to remember all the people we meet.  There are, however, two types of people who do stick in the mind: those who make a particularly positive impression (by being confident, enthusiastic and asking intelligent questions)  and those who project a very negative image.  Avoid being the student (there is one at every fair) who approaches the stands of the largest law firms in the country and asks "So, who are you?".

  • Do not fall into the trap of assessing firms on the "freebies" they give out to students.  They are only gimmicks and you should really be more interested in the firm itself and the quality of the training and work available.  That is not to say that you cannot take advantage of what is on offer!

  • Finally, use the fair to get all the information you need from Legal Practice Course providers.  You will need to start applying for your LPC at the start of your third year, so it is good to get information about the courses on offer as early as possible.

  • Once you have finished your tour of all the stands, make sure that you take all the information home and read it.  Remember to check the closing dates for vacation schemes so that you get yourself organised to apply for these in plenty of time.

  • Law fairs can seem daunting if you have not been to one before but they are also an invaluable source of information for those looking for training contracts and vacation schemes.  Remember, the representatives on the stands are genuinely interested in meeting you and talking to you about opportunities within their firm.  Make sure that you take full advantage of the resources available and I am sure that you feel it has all been worthwhile in the end - good luck!

Open Days

Firms organise open days to advertise what they have to offer to a relatively small audience.  By doing this they can make the experience far more personal than a law fair and can give a greater insight into their particular firm.

Things to remember when attending an open day are:

  • Make sure you double check what time it starts and get there no more than 10 minutes before the start time.  It is quite difficult for firms to house a lot of students in their reception area for long periods so 10 minutes is long enough.

  • If you have been asked to do anything by way of advance preparation, make sure you do it.  If a firm is going to the lengths of providing these events, it is important for students to play their part.

  • On entering the firm, make sure you are not intimidated by the building or the people.  It is important that you present yourself in a confident and friendly manner.

  • Unless you have been told otherwise dress smartly, preferably business wear but if not really smart casual.  Remember this is your opportunity to make a first impression and who knows where that may take you.

  • Engage with your fellow students.  This gives you the opportunity to network with people who may be future colleagues, but also demonstrates that you are able to socialise quite easily.  Remember, everyone is in the same boat and feeling nervous.

  • Be attentive during the presentations and think about what you are being told.  By doing this you may find that you will have lots of questions to ask those who work at the firm at the appropriate time.

  • If you are asked to take part in any team activity, get involved.  Most of the time these activities, many of which are observed, are designed to test your ability to work in a team and how you participate will tell the firm a lot.  Many of these also look for other skills such as time management, negotiation and enthusiasm.

  • You usually have the opportunity of seeing the office through an office tour.  Make sure you not only ask questions of the person who is taking you on this tour, but look around at what you see, ie the working environment.  Do not be put off by the décor as this is unimportant, but do people look genuinely happy to be working there?  You can tell a lot by observing how people interact with one another and whether or not the place is very quiet.

  • At some point during the open day there will be the chance to speak with people who work at the firm - usually trainees and/or partners.   It is essential that you speak with as many people as possible as this is your chance to find out what you want to know.  Ask them how long they have been there, and what they like about the firm.  If they have worked at other firms ask them what they feel makes their current firm different.

  • If the social gathering is a drinks party, make sure you do not drink too much alcohol, if at all.   It is important that you show judgement and act appropriately at all times.  If you do have a drink, make sure you also eat!

  • Once the event is over and you are back at home, make sure you write down some notes as to what you found out and what your thoughts are about the firm as you will easily forget, particularly if you are visiting a number of firms throughout the year.  This could prove very useful if you go back to the firm for a summer scheme or a training contract interview.

  • It is always nice to send a thank you letter or e-mail to those who organised the event and perhaps give some feedback on what you found useful about the day.

Hope these pointers are useful to you.