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The Oracle

Law fair do’s and don’ts

updated on 24 September 2019

Dear Oracle

My university’s law fair is coming up in two weeks’ time. What can I do beforehand and on the day itself to get the most out of the experience – and what should I avoid?

The Oracle replies

Good question! To answer it, let’s look at some examples.

Example one

It’s the law fair next week. You're pumped. This is your big chance to make an impression, work out which firms really have what you want and meet your new colleagues. You've been preparing for weeks and know something about all the firms attending that you actually want to speak to. You have a searching question that cuts to the very heart of the organisation planned for all the recruiters you aim to meet. These encounters will be the final pieces of the jigsaw and afterwards you'll be confirming your shortlist and beginning applications.

Example two

"What? Law fair? Today? Yeah OK, could be a laugh."

In reality, your attitude to law fairs will be somewhere between these two extremes, but law fairs really offer you a chance to break away from the pack and boost your chances of success. And it's all down to putting in a bit of preparation.

There are two kinds of conversation you can have with a firm at a law fair: functional and conceptual. In the first, the firm’s representative answers your boring questions about basic information on the firm and wish they (and you) were somewhere else. In the second they feel that they are meeting a keen, well prepared, realistic employment prospect with whom they are establishing the first connection that could lead to a training contract in the future.

Probably the best way to illustrate how the conversation might (should) go is to go through a list of DNA (Do Not Ask) questions. If these are the best you can do, then don't get your hopes up. Let’s also asl some related questions that might work a lot better.

Do not ask: "Do you have an office in [insert town where the law fair is taking place]?"

You should know the answer to this! If they do, you should already have known about them, but in most cases, outside the big cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds, the majority of law firms attending fairs are large commercial ventures, very probably internationalist in outlook. Don’t ask if they have an office in your location when that information is so obviously available online

Try instead

"I see you have a network of offices worldwide. Where would you say is the genuine heart of the firm and do you see a geographical shift in this focus over time as the world economy adapts to the rise of countries like China and India?"

Do not ask: "Do you do human rights law?"

Firstly, see the point above about most firms at fairs being commercial firms (they have the staff numbers and budget to attend). Secondly, if you are set on a particular work area, you should have trawled through the list of attendees to identify which you should target.

Try instead

"Your key practice areas seem to be corporate, property and energy. How do you structure your seat rotation to give trainees good sight of all these areas and are able to select the career route that will make best use of their talents?" And a follow up might be: "Do you find that new trainees' preconceptions of different work areas are reinforced or shown to be wrong by actually working in those departments?"

Do not ask: "What can your firm offer me?"

"A swift boot in the derriere you arrogant little…” This is recruiters' single most hated question - it displays a multitude of deficiencies in your suitability for a job: no preparation, no eye for detail, a lack of understanding how teams work, inability to communicate, no commercial nous... the list goes on.

Try instead

"I've been involved in setting up some very interesting projects while at university and find that I thrive on working hard with a team of like-minded individuals to successfully achieve our aims. Would working at your firm help me further develop these skills?"

Do not ask: "What's the money like?"

Firstly, this is information in the public domain; all firms post their pay rates, so you could/should know. Secondly, getting onto cash is a bit presumptuous when you are only just meeting them.

Try instead

This one is ideally for a trainee rather than a recruiter: "The pay looks pretty top end and I'm sure you have to work hard for it wherever you are. But how would you say the firm fits in in the scale of work/life balance with the places your friends from law school ended up?"

As you can see from the above examples, there are a few basic rules. One - the more research you do about a firm in advance of a meeting (be it at a fair, presentation or open day), the more you will look like you know what you are talking about and the more you will both gain from the conversation and impress the law firm’s representative.

Two - ask questions in such a way that people can engage in a proper conversation where you can talk about yourselves and each other. This is where the rapport develops and you get noticed.

Three - it's understood that this can all be a bit hair-raising. Do your best to appear confident, be unfailingly polite and well briefed, and anything else will be forgiven!