This is a guest post setting out invaluable do’s and don’ts when it comes to attending law fairs. It’s written by an experienced training contract applicant in the hope of preventing you from making the same mistakes.
My first and only one, about 4 years ago now, was a fruitless affair; my perfunctory approach to the exhibitors and my inexplicable fixation on the goodies on offer made this an event to forget – the firm-branded yoyos, rock candies, pencils and bubble-bath containers still rolling around my room notwithstanding.
Frankly, I didn’t appreciate the value of it all. I didn’t really know what law fairs were for; wandering around, smiling at the nice people handing out shrink-wrapped umbrellas, talking to the odd person here and there, grabbing as much swag that had my back-pack at capacity.
Law fair season is once again upon us. And at a time when the application form alone scarcely gets your foot in the door the law fair probably has more value now than it ever did; so this time, I’m determined to bypass the all-too-familiar dillydallying of yesteryear. I’ve read the articles, I’ve asked the right people the right questions and I now have an idea of how to make the most of these fairs. So what’s my game plan?
A couple of days before the fair, I’m going to find out who the exhibitors are and I’ll research as many as I can. I’ll select around ten firms I feel I am best suited to in terms of both personal interest and qualifications and I’ll research those ones further. I’ll then draw up a list of questions to ask these ten or so firms. Good questions – questions the answers for which are otherwise unavailable or are left largely unexplored online. I’ll then rank the firms, and this will provide me with a schedule to use at the fair; Firm Favourite first, Firm Least Favourite last, if time permits.
Having done all of this, what is it I want to achieve? For me, there are three things I feel will make the fair worth my while.
1) Stepping up the quality of my applications
I have it on good authority that the successful application contains keywords– words which separate a well-researched application from a poorly researched one. This is simple enough. If a firm says, online or elsewhere, it looks for ‘bright’ and ‘sociable’ trainees, a failure to use the words ‘bright’ and ‘sociable’ on your application form will probably see you passing up the opportunity to show the firm you’ve done your research. The law fair is an excellent chance to discover, from the horse’s mouth, what those words are. Ask the exhibitors what qualities they look for in an ideal candidate and what it takes to make a successful application.
It’s this word again. The worse the economic situation gets, the more I hear this word; networking. ‘Get out there’, ‘don’t call them, knock on their door’, ‘write to them directly’, ‘bake them a cake’- these such exercises – I suppose you might them call going that extra mile – have become necessary. This level of industry is required of us all, but the law fair plonks the best of these networking opportunities directly into our laps. Shaking hands, letting the exhibitors know your name, having meaningful conversations; none of this is likely to harm your chances of getting your application noticed.
Perhaps the single most important thing that can happen at a law fair is learning; learning about the application process, about the firms you seek to be part of, about the staff you hope to one day call your colleagues.
Finally, a brief word on dress code. I’m not going to risk not wearing a suit. It says I’m ready for business. Besides, shaking somebody’s hand while wearing a suit means so much more than doing the same in ¾ length shorts or frayed jeans. Plus, I like wearing a suit.
So, in conclusion: eyes on the prize, not the sweeties. Everyone wants to own a couple of coloured magnets, pens with firm names on them…colourful stress balls. Grabbing a few goodies isn’t criminal, but let’s remember why we’re there; to promote ourselves, to learn, and to better our chances of success.
About the Author: TCHawk is a GDL and LPC graduate and a veteran of the law firm application process. Check out more great articles at the TCHawk blog (http://tchawk.blogspot.com) and follow on Twitter @TheTCHawk.
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