Rockin’ in the free world
In addition to meeting students at this year's law fairs, the LC.N team also loaded up onthe free swag that firms hand out to students. Having carted it all back to LC.N Towers like greedy anti-Santas, we set about rigorously testing all our new gear to bring you the word on the best law fair giveaways of 2012.
Like Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit, the LC.N team has returned from 2012's round of law fairs to gaze contentedly around our loot-laden lair. Unlike Tolkien's monster, for the most part we didn't burn and steal our way to riches. In between meeting students and handing out copies of The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook and Best in Law at universities across the country, we also benefitted from the generosity of the law firms in attendance. Most firms dole out freebies to students as part of their law fair marketing, and this year's giveaways ranged from the usual stationery to more unorthodox widgets as they vied for the sustained attention of the legal profession's future workforce. Perched atop our treasure hoard, our team of law fair veterans are well placed to answer the question most pressing to any aspiring lawyer worth her/his salt; which firms offered the best swag at this year's fairs?
With the inevitability of a topical discussion on Loose Women descending into undignified farce, many firms opted for stationery as their law fair giveaway. As always, quality varied from the functional to the flippin' excellent. As part of their freebie packs, Taylor Wessing and Arnold & Porter included biros that may not catch the eye ("Mundane," sniffed one exacting LC.Ner), but can do a job in times of need - like flowers from a garage forecourt. Shoosmiths' stationery offering was a bulky, plastic triangular ball point in its own sheath - mimicry which undermines the pen's 'mightier than the sword' bragging rights, but which nonetheless sexes up a stylo that writes well, even if it felt "a little insubstantial" to one discerning scribe. Freshfields' chic metal offering was much meatier: While one tester saw it as the writing equivalent of sometime England footballer Gareth Barry ("Useful, but dull"), in general Matt Broadbent summed up the mood in his approval of one "classy" quill. Not to be outdone was Slaughter and May with its traditional gift of what Matt has classed "great pennage". Stationery connoisseur Sinead Dineen was impressed: "It has a lovely colour, feels nice, writes well and looks classy." However, just shading the pen category has to be the multi-coloured selection (plus highlighter) from CMS Cameron McKenna - presented in a stylish yet practical case which makes it, as Antonio Ignatius observed, "perfect for students".
Arnold & Porter rounded off its stationery offering with a notepad, each page of which is helpfully formatted as a to-do list. Elsewhere, Osborne Clarke's sticky tabs were welcomed by the team's more organised members, while its LC.N-TARAs-branded bookmark helped us branch out into another form of much appreciated usefulness! Finally, Simmons & Simmons provided a substantial notepad, the sturdy spine and perforated pages of which show its obvious quality ("This is great!" exclaimed LC.N's Francesca Clixby with the kind of enthusiasm she only reserves for a decent notepad).
Food and drink
Drinks and nosh were popular law fair giveaways once again. Browne Jacobson provided a branded bottle of water and some sweets, which were panned by many of our testing team ("Balls to this," was the most bafflingly violent reaction). However, the bottle of water was championed by our editor, Isla Grant, for its "thirst-quenching" qualities in the context of a hot, bustling law fair. Berwin Leighton Paisner's giveaway package included some apple-flavoured lollipops, which Antonio found to be "surprisingly nice". Lollipop aficionado Fran agreed: "The nuanced apple flavour is delightful, although the viscosity needs improvement." Freshfields' branded box of Dairy Milk and the rock kindly provided by Paul Hastings split our testers down the middle into chocolatiers and rock-heads (sorry), but civil war was averted by the consensus that Slaughter and May's jelly babies, well presented in their metallic mass coffin, were truly delicious.
Ever thoughtful, some firms provided swag bags with which to get all the law fair loot home. Shearman & Sterling, Burges Salmon, Clyde & Co and Arnold & Porter all went for eco-friendly bags for life. Shearman's effort was judged to be great for shopping but "way too shiny" by one style guru, while Burges Salmon's annual offering (in Sinead's opinion, "the best of the bags") was lauded for its strong stitching and good size.
Firms heartily embraced the mug's game this year. CityLawLIVE's Anna Williams approved of DLA Piper's branded travel cup for its usefulness to on-the-move aspiring lawyers, but this Pret-ender was also criticised for its poor grip. DWF's plastic tumbler (complete with stirrer) was unceremoniously nabbed by Matt, a man who treats hydration with the appropriate seriousness, while Anna observed that it would also be "good for Pimms and smoothies". Everyone liked Morgan Lewis's sturdy, useful travel mug in eye-catching orange, but Taylor Wessing's exercise-friendly water bottle was less popular, driving one tester to exclaim: "Only if I wanted to drink radioactive water would I use this."
Shoosmiths went for a traditional (or garden) tea mug, but this one looks doomed to be the resort of the last one into the office of a morning because its black interior makes the strength of the brew so difficult to judge. Travers Smith and Weightmans also provided black mugs, with the added bonus that they can be drawn on with chalk. We like this added optional ritual to the sacred rite of the tea break, but Fran felt the quality scrawling surface of the Travers Smith version just edged it slightly apart from its rival.
There was also a range of gimmicks that varied from terrific to tat. Vinson Elkins provided a magnetic 'coozy', which wraps round drinks cans to keep them cold. The team approved of a decent idea, but the coozy's bulkiness wasn't practical for one small-handed tester. Both Berwin Leighton Paisner and Shoosmiths gave out iPhone sound amplifiers, which genuinely work and were praised by Matt and Isla for being "low-tech". However, the gadget does nothing to improve the tinny sound quality of iPhone speakers, rendering it pointless for music, but perhaps passable for Test Match Special. This was no comfort to Anna though, who thought the amp looked like a "medical device". Ashurst's 'spider' multiple USB adapter failed to stir the passions of all, but Antonio pointed out its usefulness "for the firm's tech-savvy target audience". Meanwhile, Skadden provided earphones which let everyone around you know about your embarrassing music tastes, but made up for it with the ever-useful gift of a USB stick. Taylor Wessing also included this safe option, which was unfortunately let down, in one tester's eyes, "by the kind of branding that makes it embarrassing to use".
Weightmans handed out various puzzle toys of the variety that you might find in an expensive Christmas cracker, in what we are happy to encourage more paranoid readers to assume must be some kind of psychological profiling exercise. Simmons & Simmons provided a branded T-shirt which, while not answering one tester's question, "Why would a student want a T-shirt with a firm's name on?", was agreed to be made of reasonably good material. Simmons also dolled out stress balls shaped like Mini Coopers, which Anna approved as "Brit-tastic". Elsewhere, the tiny flexible men with digital clocks instead of faces provided by Paul Hastings failed to excite the team this year, particularly because the clock is too small to be of any use on a bleary-eyed weekday morning.
Kirkland & Ellis handed out travel wallets containing £5 gift cards for use at that tax averse, hipster-friendly purveyor of fussy drinks, Starbucks - a controversial example of associated branding, at best. Freshfields took a safer approach with its branded London 2012 badge, which may even turn out to be collectible in the future. Shoosmiths' snazzy cool box also proved to be a hit, and was last seen catering to the packed-lunch needs of one satisfied tester.
Shoosmiths' giveaways were rounded off by a competition to win an iPad which could be entered through its Facebook and Twitter pages. While boasting a great prize, the competition also made great use of the firm's expanding social media presence. Similarly, TLT ran a raffle to win a Kindle Touch on-site at each law fair. The idea's failure to exploit social media was more than made up for by the fact that a Kindle was given away at each law fair, rather than there being just a single nationwide prize.
Finally, Linklaters opted not to give away freebies this year and instead launched the 'Link up, change a life' campaign, which donated the money that the firm used to spend on giveaways to three worthwhile causes, as selected by students. A praiseworthy move; let's hope that it was designer ball point - rather than plastic biro - money!
That's our freebie roundup for another year, so now it's back to the far less important business of training contracts, pupillages and work experience. However, if you have an amazing freebie which should have made the list or you just want to tell us why our opinions are wrong, feel free to comment below the line.