"It can be hard to differentiate between firms, especially as so much of the graduate recruitment marketing material can appear to be very similar.
It's crucial you go beyond these to gain a full understanding of each firm. Use their corporate site for information about their deal work and also trade publications and directories like The Lex 100 (very useful for comparing firms).
Nothing beats actually meeting a firm though - this will give you a real insight into their work and culture, and what they expect from their trainees, so make sure you're aware of when they'll be visiting your university and / or any open days you can apply for.
Firms will expect you to know what they've been working on (and why this interests you), who their main competitors are, and what differentiates them from these competitors so research should be pretty in-depth."
"When researching law firms, candidates should use a range of sources including: firm websites, social media channels, legal and business press and meeting representatives on campus. Representatives may include future and current trainees, associates and partners, as well as graduate recruitment.
Some firms also employ students as campus reps who can provide useful information. However, there really is no better way to find out about a firm than meeting current employees, so sign up for networking opportunities and apply for open days and vacation schemes. Your research needs to be thorough; we expect candidates to have some knowledge of Norton Rose Fulbright's strategy, global expansion and industry sector focus. You can't simply re-hash what we say on our website though!
We like candidates to think about our business and our clients independently, so use a variety of sources to inform your views before you apply or attend an interview."
"Although open evenings give you the opportunity to visit the office, most firms will also attend events across the country each Autumn, from University law fairs to presentation evenings, and we would suggest you find out where your chosen firms will be visiting and make the effort to go and say hello!
Speaking to recruiters and trainees at events will give you something to talk about on your application form when you explain your motivation for applying and, if you make a good impression, will help your application stand out. If you’re successful in gaining a vacation scheme place, it will help you to feel more comfortable and settle in quicker if there are a few friendly faces you recognise.
You will also notice that many firms are starting to dip their toes into social media such as Twitter, and this is a great way to interact with recruiters and trainees if your location makes it difficult to meet in person.
Having any form of engagement with a firm before you apply means you can start understanding the personality of the firm, which is incredibly important when deciding whether it's a place you could see yourself developing a rewarding career."
"The most important factor to take into account is whether the firm can deliver your ambitions. For example, do their largest and most prestigious practice areas match your own areas of interest? It's worth ensuring that the firm is investing in the growth of these areas since it is more likely there will be opportunities to qualify in an area you're really interested in. Check how much input you'll have into the departments (seats) that you see. It's no good joining a firm with a key practice area of interest if you won't have a say over whether you experience it.
Also think about the kind of clients and deals they work on; are they one of the top or mid-tier firms who work on high-value international transactions for global companies? What kind of exposure would you have to high level work and clients as a trainee with that firm?
Finally, consider where they're based and where they have other offices. Are there opportunities to work in any of the other offices? International firms will expect you to have a global outlook and be open to working overseas at some point in your career."
"It is important to ensure that you are making an informed decision when choosing where to train, and the only way of doing this is to research the market thoroughly. Part of finding the right firm is about personal fit, so when choosing where to train you will need to assess your own motivations and interests, rather than simply applying to the same firms as your classmates and friends.
When selecting a firm to apply to, try to be flexible on what practice areas you are interested in, unless you are certain that there is a particular area you are drawn to. It is also important to consider what else you are looking for in a firm (whether it is international, full-service, particular sectors etc.). Once you have put together a shortlist of firms that you are interested in, try to attend one of each firm's open days. These are an ideal opportunity to see the firm in practice, to meet people from the firm to understand first-hand what they enjoy about the firm, and to assess the firm's culture."
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!
For April's Ask The Experts edition we focus on the issue of diversity in the legal industry. Workplace diversity is an important issue in all industries, and like other industries the legal sector has much room for improvement on this issue. Encouragingly, law firms have been making a concerted effort to promote the diversity of their staff.
Click here for our Q&A which explores the benefits of a diverse workforce and asks what law firms, and the profession in general, can do to further promote diversity.
We’ve come to the end of the academic year! You will be planning to utilise your free time wisely, whether that’s by completing a summer vacation scheme, seeking work experience elsewhere or by going on a much-deserved holiday to get away from it all. Over to the Experts, with advice on how to get the most from your summer holidays…
A lot of our readers naturally focus on the pursuit of a training contract, but it is worth considering what awaits trainees once they begin life at a law firm. Aside from the actual case work, what else do budding lawyers need to consider? Our trusted panel of experts are on hand to shine a light on the assessment and qualification processes that trainees must go through.
University has rolled around again, and with it a new cohort of students who may be considering a career in law for the first time. Let’s go back to basics and fire some simple opening questions to our Expert panel.
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