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Husnara Begum, career coach & skills trainer

With the 2022/23 legal recruitment season now in full swing, I thought now is a great time to share my top tips on how to use virtual and in-person networking events to discover and develop a deeper understanding of hiring organisations and the legal sector more broadly. In other words, though it’s vitally important to create positive and lasting impressions, recruitment events, and more specifically networking, are less about selling yourself and definitely more about learning.

Advance preparation is key to making the most of recruitment and / or networking events. When conducting your research, consider what you already know about the law firms on your hit list. Research the graduate recruitment pages on employers’ websites, latest news stories, their values, culture, key areas of work and clients etc.

For some networking events (especially one-to-one conversations), I’d also recommend conducting potential ‘informational interviews’: these are essentially an informal way to engage in conversation with trainee and qualified solicitors who have lived experiences of breaking into the legal field. It’s a tried and tested research tool and a brilliant way to gain firsthand information about the realities of working as a lawyer, and hopefully gain useful tips and insider knowledge.

How do you go about conducting an informational interview? One way is to use the REVEAL method; a simple way to frame your conversation and questions. But you can of course develop your own techniques and practice until it feels natural.

Recap – In a law fair or networking context, explain a little about yourself and perhaps what you’re hoping to get out of the event.

Explore – ask ‘open’ questions starting with ‘how’ or ‘what’ to find out more about the experience of the person you’re speaking to and remember to tailor your questions to the appropriate representative.

Vision –  this is about trying to improve your ‘vision’ and understanding of the legal sector and how it might be changing, eg what do you feel are the greatest opportunities or challenges facing the profession in the next three years? What impact is the cost of living crisis and market turbulence going to have on your sector in the future?

Excellence – what does excellent look like? For example, future lawyers could ask a partner ‘what do they see as the qualities typically demonstrated by a high-performing trainee?’

Action – hopefully by now you’ve learnt a lot from the person you’re with and could draw the conversation to a close by asking what else you could be doing to gain knowledge, for example ‘what would your top tips be on continuing to improve my commercial awareness?’

Links – thank the person for their time and consider asking them who else they feel it would be helpful for you to talk to or what other methods you could be using to continue your research (if appropriate).

Make notes of everything you’ve learnt from the event immediately afterwards whilst it’s fresh in your mind. You’ll then have accurate and detailed notes you can refer back to when making your applications.

Building on my points above, consider what’s appropriate/inappropriate to ask. Avoid asking basic and obvious questions that you could easily find answers to on an employer’s website. The more research you do in advance, the more confident you’ll feel and the more you’ll be able to actively engage in conversation and build that all important rapport. Remember to tailor your questions to the appropriate representative, for example, you could ask a trainee solicitor about the seats they’ve completed to date and the work they’ve been involved with to get a sense of the responsibility and quality of work you could expect as a trainee.

Here are a few examples of how to phrase questions to show you’ve done your homework:

Instead of: what’s your culture like?

Ask: I read on your website that collaboration is an important part of the firm’s culture. How does that reflect in the day-to-day life at your firm?

Instead of: do you have an office in X city? (easily found on a firm’s website and a question that always used to make me groan inwardly at a law fair)

Ask: when researching your firm I saw you have a network of offices across Europe. What opportunities are there for trainees to spend time overseas on secondment to X city and what type of work would you do there?

Instead of: do you offer six monthly seat rotations (again, easily found on a firm’s website)

Ask: I was reading about your trainee experiences and key practice areas. How are seats allocated to ensure trainees are gaining a wide experience and broadening their skill set?

You get the picture. With some prior thought you can ask interesting and thoughtful questions that will engage the firm representatives far more and hopefully give you greater insight into the firm and its people.

And post the event? Get busy on social media. You could write about your experiences (using the appropriate hashtags and platforms) providing a summary of what knowledge you’ve gained and what you found particularly useful. You could add screen grabs or photos of elements you found helpful. In addition, please remember to thank the organisations involved.  This will all help to raise your profile as well as help your fellow aspiring solicitors.

Once you’ve gained all this knowledge and it’s informed your choice of target firms you can use this to enhance your applications. For example, what have you learnt about a firm’s strategy and practice areas, which will help with the inevitable ‘why us/what do you know about us?’ question. If you had an engaging and valuable conversation with a firm representative during an event make sure you mention this in your application too. Mentioning that you’ve met the firm, and how the knowledge you gained motivated you to apply, will help you to stand out and show your proactivity and genuine interest.