Law fairs offer an unparalleled opportunity to meet a variety of recruiters, educators and others based within the world of law. They can vary from international commercial law firms, smaller boutique or high street practices, law schools, volunteer organisations and more. Some may be more targeted and specialised, focusing on a particular sub-set of legal practice, whilst others can be much more broad brush and all-encompassing in their scope.
Attending these events is a great way to test your networking capabilities and to learn more about firms, law schools or companies you might be interested in applying to. They can, however, often be quite daunting and overwhelming for attendees. Here are a few of my top tips for making the most of them and what I’d tell myself in hindsight having been on ‘both sides’ of a law fair booth.
First and foremost, recognise that for many people, large-scale networking events are scary – especially if it’s your first time attending one. This is an opportunity for you to gather information to help inform your career and application choices, rather than the be-all and end-all moment where you have to make an even more perfect impression than your ‘competitors’ in the room with you. Framing the event in this way will only put undue pressure on yourself.
Ultimately, these firms, institutions and companies are in that room as they’re interested in, well, you! This isn’t a formal interview, but rather a chance for them to make a good enough impression on you to convince you to apply for them and vice versa for you to make an enthusiastic and professional impression on them.
If you’re naturally more introverted or nervous, it can help to travel to and attend the fair with a friend so that you’ve got a familiar face to turn to in a crowd full of strangers. Having said that – don’t buddy up with people you know for the duration of the event. Not only will you have less control as to how you spend your time or which booths to attend, but it can be difficult for people behind the booth to address two people at the same time and get a good impression of why they’re there. It can be helpful – whether you’re introverted or not – to take a few moments every thirty minutes to grab some fresh air, a drink or otherwise give yourself a break.
Before even attending, it can be helpful to reflect on your current circumstances – year of study, previous experiences, modules undertaken etc. – to help guide your pre-event research (see below). For example, you might ask yourself:
- Do I want to work in private practice, in-house, or in another law-related role? Do I even want to pursue a legal-based career at all?
- Do I picture myself working in a larger office environment, or as part of a smaller team? How about in London, in a smaller city, or a more regional/high-street office?
- Do I my career to have an international element, to allow travel/secondment opportunities, or otherwise have some other additional factor to it?
- Are there particular firms or companies I’ve heard of or met before? Do they interest me? Why?
- Which practice areas, departments or working styles appeal to me? What do I know about the transactional, advisory and contentious/disputes sides of law?
Undertaking this exercise will really help you narrow down which booths, attendees and speakers may be of most interest to you, which questions it might be useful to ask as well as how to make the most of your limited time on the day.
Once you’ve had a chance to ask yourself some reflecting questions about what you’re looking for and interested in, it can be effective to spend some time prior to the event researching which companies and firms will be attending. You can use the answers to your reflective questions to guide your research and generate some opening questions to ask when meeting representatives for each booth.
You’ll need to have a basic level of understanding about firms and companies you’re speaking to in order to ask good questions (see below). At a minimum:
- Visit employers’ websites, particularly their graduate recruitment pages, to understand what they do and what opportunities they have on offer. Try to identify any unique opportunities or characteristics they may have to such opportunities which you can explore with more questioning on the day.
- Understand the general recruitment processes for similar companies/firms as best you can by collating and cross-referencing what each firm has publicly described theirs to be. You can then ask questions about what might happen/what skills are tested during an assessment centre, for example, if they haven’t given specifics.
- In the days leading up to the event, take some time to see what the latest news updates, headlines and developments have occurred both for the company/firm directly and their broader industry.
A lot of these tips equally apply to interviews and are common sense, but it can be easy to lose track and forget a few in the run up to the main event!
- Double check all of the basics – where the event is, when it starts, what the registration steps are, if you need to bring ID/a ticket with you etc. – especially if you’re travelling a long way and/or blotting out some time in your schedule to attend!
- If you can, get a floor plan and/or list of attendees. These can be invaluable for you to cross off key contacts as you go as well as generally plan a sensible route around the event. It can be helpful to plan to speak to firms and individuals you’re most interested in a little while into the event in order to give yourself enough time to get oriented, calm your nerves and settle in.
- Try to arrive as early as you reasonably can. If the event is several hours long, those attending and manning booths may understandably be more drained and tired than they will be at the beginning.
- Dress the part – it will help get your head in the correct mindset and also help give you a professional impression to those you meet.
- As well as arriving early, make sure you also double-check if there are any key times to be aware of – interesting seminars, presentations, interactive sessions etc. These events may have a limited capacity, or require additional pre-registration, so make sure to either get in queues with plenty of time or understand what you might need to bring before turning up.
Ask (good) questions
As covered earlier, it can often be tempting to feel as though you need to ask that jaw-dropping, never-heard-before style of question in order to ‘win over’ those on the other side of the events booth. In reality, it is much more practical to ask questions that are:
- Relevant to the strengths and specialisms of that given employer
- Aren’t already easily covered by their website or brochures – e.g. what schemes they offer, what the deadline is for a specific application etc.
- Important to you – this is an excellent opportunity for you to assess whether a recruiter is right for you before you begin drafting applications trying to convince them you’re right for them.
- Follow-ons from your earlier research and that demonstrate your enthusiasm – questions like these are a great opportunity to both learn more about an employer and demonstrate your enthusiasm to them at the same time.
When you get responses, take note of any information you feel is particularly relevant or helpful. Contact details, email addresses, key dates and upcoming events are all good examples of these. This will make follow-ups after the event (see below) much easier to remember and fill out with some depth and detail. Take notes either during the conversation or shortly after it – just be sure to explain what you’re doing so it doesn’t look like you’ve lost interest!
This may seem a little strange to those unfamiliar with applications, but it may come in useful when writing about what particularly draws you to a firm. For example, you could explain that ‘John Smith,’ the trainee representing X at your university law fair, discussed with you his role in a recent dispute he worked on and it increased your interest in the firm because of the level of responsibility he was given or because of the nature of the work etc.
If you met someone at the fair who really did make the effort and spent a considerable amount of time speaking to you, it may be appropriate to send a follow up email thanking them for their time and giving such an insight. As there will be a large amount of people at the fair, sending an email will help you stand out.
Arguably one of the most important tips to give – follow up on any and all opportunities people may offer you throughout the day. Try to respond to coffee, Skype or informal invitations within a few days of the event whilst it is still fresh in people’s minds. Similarly, don’t be afraid to take your networking efforts online and follow/connect with those you spoke to on LinkedIn and other social media. Even a small note to follow up and thanking people for their time and mentioning something you learnt about with them will go a long way in making a positive impression.
And for virtual events…
Almost all of the tips outlined above will apply equally well for virtual webinars, events, conferences and career fairs. However, there are a few extra digital ones that may come in handy:
- As best as you can, turn on your camera and microphone throughout events – especially when asking questions. It will help speakers and other attendees be able to put a face and voice to your questions!
- Mute your mic during presentations, when not asking questions or otherwise listening to others speak. If you can, muting your in-built or external mic physically with a switch will mean you don’t accidentally leave it on even if you forget to mute yourself on whatever software platform you’re using.
- Headphones are a great way to ensure that feedback from the mics of other attendees and users doesn’t get caught by yours and create an ‘echoing’ effect for others.
- If you’re nervous in speaking up yourself, make the most of chat functions, poll voting and hand-raise features to contribute.
- Make notes in another window or conference to the main conference room/screen and have them in split-view so you can continue to follow the event throughout.
Many thanks to AllAboutLaw for helping collaborate on and sponsor this article. You can find out more about the events, career fairs and other webinars they host for aspiring lawyers by visiting the link below.
The Legal Stuff: This article contains only personal views and does not reflect the views or opinions of Baker McKenzie, or any other member firm of Baker McKenzie. The comments made and views expressed in this article are intended for information purposes only, and nothing in this article is to be considered as creating an attorney-client relationship or indeed any contractual relationship or as rendering legal or professional advice for any specific matter, whether under English law, the laws of any other country, or otherwise. Readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. This article is otherwise published subject to the following disclaimers.