It's not all about who you know in the legal industry, but contacts, socialising and first impressions can definitely go a long way in earning your place on a firm's favourites list. We've asked our experts to shed some light on networking etiquette, and on how to end up remembered for the right reasons after an open day event. Here’s what they had to say...
How do I make a good impression during an open day or law firm networking event?
Many firms will hold their open days after the rush of law fairs throughout October and November, and with good reason. Fairs are an ideal opportunity to meet the firms you've started to research and think could be a good match, but open evenings are positioned at a time when you've narrowed your shortlist down further and want to really get to know your chosen firms better.
When you attend an open evening make sure you're prepared. Your research will probably have left you with some questions, and this is an ideal opportunity to ask them. The most impressive candidates are confident, enthusiastic and use the opportunity to ask genuine questions beyond the usual "why do you like working here?" (although that's perfectly fine as an ice breaker!)
Although it might be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, take the initiative and strike up conversations with people. Our solicitors are a friendly bunch, so be ready to talk about yourself and your background too. Building rapport and networking is an important part of being a solicitor and the most memorable candidates are not usually the people who have spent all evening huddled in a corner or looking at their shoes!"
Be yourself and be enthusiastic! The best attendees will prepare with some general facts and figures but be open minded to finding out as much as possible by asking questions and listening to the answers. We can really tell when students are disengaged, so please think about looking interested and asking questions – interactive sessions are more enjoyable if you throw yourself into it.
Small trainee cohorts mean we have to be extra careful to find applicants who 'fit' with the personality of the firm. Be sociable and get to know people as it's the only way you can tell if you really like a firm. Don't be afraid to show your individuality, but make the impact with your opinions and experience, rather than with your clothing or behaviour – make sure you are remembered for the right reasons!"
Shearman & Sterling
How is engaging with the firm during open days and networking events different from an interview with the firm?
From a student's perspective, open days and networking events provide an opportunity to speak to a range of people from the firm: trainees, associates, HR professionals and partners. You will be able to ask more questions than you would have time for in an interview, and also be able to chat in a more informal atmosphere, which should give you a genuine feel for the atmosphere at the firm. You are also likely to learn more about the firm from the presentations given on the day.
From the firm's perspective, open days and networking events provide a very good forum for the firm to give students a real idea of what life there is like. In addition, such events allow firms to carry out some initial scouting for talent, and also to assess how well the firm's brand is coming through on campus at a range of universities.
While an open day or networking event may be less formal than an interview, you should still prepare well for the day by ensuring you have a good understanding of the firm, and that you have some intelligent questions to ask. You will be making a first impression with the firm, so you should try to make it a good one!"
What things should I avoid saying or doing during an open day or networking event?
Open days and networking events are important tools for you to get to know a law firm from the inside. It is your chance to see for yourself what the work, the people, and the culture are really like. But, in order to get the most out of the event, you need to be prepared. Don't show up without doing your research first.
Remind yourself what the key differentiating factors of the law firm are and have a look at what has been happening since you signed up for the event. Has there been a recent transaction that has caught the attention of the legal world? Or, has the firm announced a merger, a new office opening, or recently won an award? Knowing this information will give you confidence to join in any discussion and will also allow you to ask relevant and insightful questions.
This information will also help you demonstrate your interest in the business, which will leave a lasting impression on those you meet."
Norton Rose Fulbright
Without wanting to pile on the pressure, we make a note of the good candidates at our events but we also remember those who've made a poor impression. The key is to make sure you're prepared; don't just rock up thinking you can have 'a bit of a chat' with representatives from a firm.
Do your research, think about some intelligent and thoughtful questions and make sure that you tailor them to the person you're speaking to. For instance, asking me about the nitty gritty of a deal might make me doubt your common sense and how well you've thought your question through.
Firms are looking for likeable and confident trainees but don't be that person who takes this too far and gets overfamiliar (particularly after a few drinks!). I've had candidates squeezing my arm and even winking at me. You need to get the balance right; get involved in conversations without dominating them, ask insightful questions, talk to a variety of people, enjoy the free food and drink within reason and finally avoid overstaying your welcome at the end. Nobody likes a lingerer!
Networking skills are crucial when seeking out new career opportunities, establishing or building relationships, keeping updated with peers in the industry or for knowledge exchange.
To improve networking skills, it is firstly vital to be open to building relationships. Ensure that you do your preparation and planning before attending any events and this will mean you are more comfortable, in control and actually enjoy the event. Consider who will be attending an event and arrive with an idea of those people you want to approach and why you want to approach them. Have some questions in your armoury to start a conversation. What do they do? Where are they from? Have they been to something like this before? Do they know anyone else? Is there anything in the press recently that might be relevant to them and their work?
It may be easier to approach a duo and join their conversation, or approach someone standing by themselves. Always smile and ask if you can join them. Be authentic, be interested and follow up with an email if you have said that you would!