Once or twice a year, most top law firms hold an open day. This usually involves individuals being invited to the firm’s offices where they attend a series of lectures, discussion panels and workshops. Rather than opening the firm to all interested applicants though, these open days can be surprisingly competitive to get into.
For instance, to obtain a place, candidates are usually required to answer – in several hundred words – why they want to attend the open day. Further, as part of the application, candidates have to complete the customary form regarding, among other things, their educational background, hobbies and work experience.
This application process for a one-day event can take hours to complete. Hence, it discourages many applicants who are already stretched to find the time for submissions alongside their study commitments.
The widespread view seems to be that the perceived benefit does not justify the level of work required for the application. After all, you can research the firm online. Alternatively, you can meet recruiters at a university law society event.
However, I believe that this view is somewhat misguided. Open days provide an opportunity to enhance your applications and ensure that the firm you choose is somewhere that you would enjoy working.
Benefits of open days for you and graduate recruiters
The idea of an open day is to inform the attendees/future applicants about the firm.
The day will likely focus on a series of lectures emphasising the positive aspects of being a trainee there. For instance, the firm will almost certainly mention its impressive pro bono projects, its fantastic canteen and its welcoming culture. In addition, you may be treated to a tour of the office’s remarkable facilities. Ultimately, the aim of the recruiters is to leave potential candidates with a positive image of the place that they are applying to.
What is more, the firm also benefits from the open day. The graduate recruitment team has an opportunity to meet candidates in person, which helps them to remember the most impressive and enthusiastic candidates when their written application arrives. In contrast, a black mark can be put against those who have behaved unprofessionally.
Consequently, open days are an opportunity to impress the firm and enhance your commercial awareness. Therefore, if time permits, I would strongly encourage you to apply to a few. Here, I have outlined some supplementary advantages to open days that are also worth considering.
Get to know a firm
It is said that a vacation scheme is the best way to determine whether a firm is right for you. This statement is probably true, but an open day also provides key experience. Moreover, it has the advantage of not being as competitive as securing a training contract. Therefore, you may get a more genuine experience.
Spending a day in the office can give an accurate impression of what the surroundings are like. Further, the time spent talking to trainees at the firm can provide answers to any questions you may have. For example, what are their biggest frustrations? What did they think of this particular seat? What are their hours like in reality?
Open days are also informative about the firm – far more than any talk or website designed primarily for client purposes. You will be provided with a breakdown of all the opportunities that are available, including some that you may not have seen advertised on the website. For example, firms may clarify requirements for any tech-based training programmes or confirm amendments to deadlines.
Elsewhere, you will find out how soon you are likely to hear back from graduate recruitment about your application. This will be important if you find yourself in the fortunate position of having to choose between multiple offers.
In addition, if you attend several open days, you will begin to see how law firms position themselves in the market relative to their competitors. This rounded picture can only enrich your commercial awareness and knowledge of other firms.
Find the firm that is right for you
Perhaps most importantly, the talks that you attend at an open day will give you an idea of the firm’s key practice areas, international work and secondment opportunities. Therefore, I would encourage you to attend multiple open days, as this will help to determine which firm is right for you.
This is important because if you receive a training contract offer, you may be tied to the firm for four years (including study). However, you may only have time for a couple of vacation schemes. In contrast, as a student, you may be able to attend far more open days.
The open day tour will help to guide you on the type of firm that you really want to work for. Did you enjoy the idea of working on massive deals, but become alarmed at potentially doing longer hours, working at the weekend or being a smaller piece of the project? Alternatively, did the smaller firm with more of a national focus appeal more? Were you interested in mainly banking clients, or would a boutique IP firm be better suited to your sensibilities?
Open days offer an opportunity to answer these questions.
Assist in your applications
Open days revolve around presentations from specific partners, as well as the graduate recruitment team. The talks will often feature an explanation regarding a core practice area of the firm.
For example, Firm X does a lot of shipping and insurance work, so the presentations will likely focus on that aspect. The presentation may also discuss the firm’s major clients and the deals that their lawyers have worked on. Further, presenters will highlight diversity and inclusion projects, or legal tech initiatives that the firm is particularly proud of.
Likewise, many lawyers – throughout their presentations and in the networking talks afterwards – will emphasise the current affairs topics that candidates should be conscious of. This is especially the case for vacation scheme applications that require the applicant to discuss a topic that interests them or outline the changes that they envisage in the legal sector.
The detail provided is valuable content for any application to the firm. Referencing specific cases, clients and internal initiatives will distinguish you from other candidates who have not attended the open day.
In addition, an open day cannot be understated for the value that it provides in demonstrating your sustained commitment to the firm. If you have attended a talk at university, as well as an open day, then this shows a long-term interest that will be seen positively when the application arrives.
Law fairs are often the first time that you meet anyone from a firm. However, leaving a memorable impression at a law fair can be difficult. There are often long queues of people and most individuals feel awkward having an extensive conversation with Law Firm X representatives when the queue is slowly growing behind them.
Therefore, an open day is a great chance to meet people from the firm. Indeed, there are often trainees who may host a panel discussion and join you for lunch. If you get to know these individuals or build a rapport, there is no reason why you cannot continue the relationship.
For example, I have met many students who have developed a mentor relationship with a trainee that they met at an open day. If you ask politely, most trainees are more than happy to provide insight via a follow-up email at a later date.
Another important point is that this is a great opportunity to meet other attendees. These attendees are experiencing the same challenges as you in applying, so you may be able to offer each other advice or empathise with one another’s struggle. You may also bump into these individuals at other events, which can put you more at ease.
Open days are also a great opportunity to connect with recruiters. If you show that you have researched the firm and seem affable enough with employees, this positive image will be noticed.
Boost your CV
Open days have historically been a great way for candidates with limited legal experience to enhance their CVs. This is because many open days still require some kind of competitive process for applicants to be accepted. Further, a series of targeted open days can help to establish the type of law that candidates are interested in.
Given the emergence of online internships, candidates can – by attending several open days in the space of a few weeks – start to build a CV that shows a real commitment to law and a legal career.
Assist in assessment days
Open days are also a huge help when it comes to later-stage assessment days and group exercises.
For instance, most open days will feature a workshop of some kind. This may take the form of a mock negotiation, a dispute or a planned acquisition of a target company. These scenarios are not too dissimilar from that which you may experience on a typical assessment day. In addition, some workshop sessions are evaluated. A positive assessment can help to distinguish candidates when it comes to the initial application form.
Ultimately, familiarity breeds confidence. The more open days that you attend and workshops that you partake in, the more comfortable you are likely to be when the assessment day arrives.
Further, you will usually receive feedback on how your team performed during the workshop. Therefore, you can use this feedback to enhance your performance score come the assessment day.
Open days may ostensibly seem like a sales pitch for the firm and do require considerable effort and research. However, they also provide an opportunity beyond a mere introduction to the firm. Therefore, candidates would be wise to consider applying and portraying their best selves on the day.