Give it away now: the best and worst law fair freebies of 2013

LC.N goes to law fairs for the students, but we stay for the freebies. Continuing our annual tradition, our panel of discerning testers once again dusted off their clipboards to assess which firms’ freebies shone (or not) in 2013. 

We at LC.N enjoyed autumn's law fairs. Not only do these events give us the chance to meet you, our readers, on campuses nationwide to answer your career queries and hand out copies of the latest Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook; they also provide an excuse for us to go about the far more important business of nabbing all the free swag that law firms dole out as part of their recruitment marketing.

Once all the legal loot has been hauled back to LC.N Towers, our discerning team rates each item to judge which firms triumphed in the high-pressure, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses field of giving stuff away at law fairs. Finally, the team descends like a gaggle of crazed vultures cordially divides who wants what from the spoils. With a little repackaging, even the less desirable baubles save us from having to go out shopping for the weird uncles and curmudgeonly cousins with whom we're obliged to socialise at Christmas. Season's cheer to everyone!

Widgets, gizmos and gimmicks

This year, firms' marketing teams chose an eclectic range of gear to slap with branding and dispense at law fairs, but which served their intended purpose of being magnificently memorable and which were terribly tatty?

Weightmans handed out what looked like DIY silicon implants to one naïve LC.Ner, but they were actually portable hand warmers to see students through their long days hunkered down in icy libraries and freezing flats. Reviews were generally positive; "They're great for those with poor circulation," sagely observed LC.N's Fran Clixby, but another seasoned freebie tester did not warm to Weightmans' effort; complaining that "they are a faff to recharge".

Jones Day gave away an umbrella, which garnered praise from LC.N's editor, Isla Grant, for its usefulness and "good size". However, the brolly failed to impress one team member: "Not exactly handbag sized, is it?" she sniffed. Elsewhere, CMS Cameron McKenna handed out packs of playing cards in branded boxes, which received the genuine, if muted, approval of the kind that a corner shop frozen pizza might receive upon the discovery that it is not, in fact, horrible.

The playing cards dished out by Paul Hastings LLP fared better, with Sinead Dineen praising the "stronger box" in which they came. The firm also gave away useful pencil sharpeners and inflatable globe beach toys, which LC.N publisher Matthew Broadbent approved because "their novelty matches the firm's international focus". Elsewhere, the earphones offered by King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin fared less well. Matt liked their "retractable functionality", but it was genuinely agreed that their quality was such that using them on public transport would be tantamount to antisocial behaviour.

"Their novelty matches the firm's international focus"

A couple of firms took a more 'conceptual' approach to their giveaways. Nabarro's offering included six white dice "to represent the firm's six seat training contract". We liked the attempt at an interesting marketing ploy, but it was generally agreed that this one didn't quite come off because the connotations of gambling and chance created by the dice don't sit easily with the rigorous process of landing a training contract.

Meanwhile, Trowers & Hamlins gave out Rubik's cubes with buzzwords like "innovative" and "friendly" on each side. While Isla said that it could "really help the long winter nights fly by", the rest of the judges were decidedly more scathing. One tester helpfully suggested that words such as "bland" and "platitude" could be displayed on the cube instead, while Sinead's puzzle-solving patience failed altogether, reporting back, "I bloody hate this thing!"

Finally, Olswang has to take the plaudits for providing this year's most outstanding widget – a beautifully designed universal travel adaptor. Not only is this an incredibly useful bit of kit - not least for anyone aspiring to the life of a jet setting commercial lawyer - Matt also found the adaptor to be (thankfully) "adaptable" and "very stylish".

Bags

Mindful of how heavily laden students become as they move around these events; some firms helpfully gave out bags to hold all the new literature and other swag. Clyde & Co LLP's offering was adjudged adequate, but average. "It's good for a day, but could you use it long term?" worried one tester, to no one in particular. Hogan Lovells' bag was similarly acknowledged as "useful" and little more, but DWF's hessian effort really impressed. "It screams eco," enthused Isla.

Stationery

Most law firms have their own branded stationery, so pads, pens and post-its were once again much in evidence at law fairs this year. Latham & Watkins handed out the latter two – a fair offering overall, augmented by the undeniable usefulness of a USB stick. Ince & Co also went for usefulness with its own memory stick. "Nice," said Matt, "but it's not going to set the world on fire." Isla agreed: "It's nothing to write home about," she said, but then the same sentiments could apply to this entire write up about branded stationery, of all things.

"It's nothing to write home about"

Anyway, moving on and Mills & Reeve gave out a highlighter that also excretes sticky tabs from another useful orifice, which cheered Sinead up considerably. Freshfields also went for a combined offering, merging the separate spheres of post-its and sticky tabs into one useful dispenser.

Nabarro also met general approval for its rather nicely branded diary, which accompanied the aforementioned dice, as did Edwards Wildman Palmer UK for its small "notelet" book. However, the best stationery offerings that we saw were from Addleshaw Goddard, which gave away really nice, bright pink notebooks, and Hogan Lovells, which offered that rarest of free commodities – a quality pen – and covered all other bases by also handing out post its and sticky tabs.

The mugs game

Ah, the branded mug, a form of marketing as ubiquitous as a made-up moisturiser ingredient or money-spinning endorsement from Pele. This year DWF, Jones Day and Weightmans gave away sturdy travel mugs, a wholesome alternative to mainlining caffeine on the Tube for hard-working commercial fee earners. We liked them and Matt acknowledged what he saw as "quality across the board".

"Quality across the board"

Meanwhile, some other firms opted for the domestic, common or 'garden' mug giveaway. Ince & Co, Dechert and Bristows all provided solid offerings – with praise going to Bristows' fetching colour schemes, in particular. However, Travers Smith and Kirkland & Ellis both stole the show with their customisable 'chalkboard' mugs. We don't know why we like this feature so much, but we do – and anyway the material that allows these mugs to be drawn on also retains heat very well. So there.

Sweets

Sweets are another stalwart on the law fair circuit. Baker & McKenzie handed out small tubs of delicious Skittles, while Freshfields supplied blue and white branded pick and mix, which were of "a strange hue" to one tester, but suitably sugary to the rest of the team. However, we preferred last year's box of Dairy Milk! Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells included both sweets and mints in its wide-ranging freebie offering, all of which were augmented by the firm's fetching lime green branding.

That's all for another year folks, but if you bagged a fantastic freebie or a piece of tawdry tat that we have failed to include in our roundup, feel free to get involved and comment below the line.

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