Olivia Parker, our Careers Development Officer at the Law Society, discusses September's recent round of law fairs. What did students do well and what do employers wish they did better?

In case anyone missed the law fair boat this year, they take place in September at several universities in Scotland. Generally law students are welcome to attend any of the law fairs regardless of whether they are a university student at that particular institution (Strathclyde is a known exception to this, so double check before attending any fairs as an outside student).

Law fairs are a great opportunity to talk to employers and find out more about working in the profession. A lot of big firms with resources to promote their many opportunities do tend to be very well-represented, with smaller firms and in-house organisations less so. For some people this is great and they have a room full of employers they want to work for. For others it can be frustrating and students can think ‘I’m not going to meet anyone I want to work for’, and so don’t go. I would offer a few words of caution here. Firstly, about 60% of traineeships are currently registered at a ‘big firm’, so you’re slimming down your options significantly by cutting them out unilaterally. And secondly, I would always advise against assuming all big firm employers are one and the same; the more you talk to different employers at law fairs, the more you realise they’re proud of their own culture, their values and they’re all looking for different people.

Anyway, we like to keep an ear to the ground when we’re at events like this, to find out what feedback and comments employers have to offer. Your university will likely send out a review of their fair which is always worth a read, but here’s our round up of what we heard on our travels:

'Ditch your friends at the door'

This is a verbatim quote from one employer, who noticed that groups of friends don’t always interact as well as they would as individuals. In a group you can’t have a face to face conversation with the employer, plus sometimes the presence of others makes you present yourself in a way that you might not if you were on your own. Maybe you don’t want to look too ‘keen’, or you don’t want to ask your burning question. Or you might be with a really loud friend who’s actually overpowering and makes you feel like you’re fading into the background.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to a law fair in your earlier years, then going along with your friends is fine. However, if you seriously want to make a good impression and you’re at the stage of applying for vacation (vac) schemes or traineeships, going it alone will pay off and make sure you get everything out of the fair you personally needed to.

‘I’m never impressed when students ask me what my firm does’

What this employer is getting at is: do your research on firms before going to the fair!

Again, I think it’s fair to approach this feedback in different ways based on whether you’re just exploring opportunities, or whether you’re further down the line seriously looking for traineeships. For those just going along in their first or second year to find out what’s what, then I think having these exploratory conversations with employers is much more acceptable. This is precisely why we recommend students actually go along to their fair as they’re starting out as students, so when they go back next year they’ll know who they want to talk to, about what and why.

If you’re at the point of actively looking for traineeships, you need to have done more research. I know it’s more pressure and you might think ‘what’s the harm in asking the basic questions’, but the reality is that you’re in an extremely competitive environment. I would imagine that most students want to stand out for the right reasons. Researching the firm will allow you to have a far more meaningful conversation with the representatives on the stand, whether that’s because you know you want to work in an area that they have expertise in, or from your research you think you have exactly the right kind of attributes they look for. It’s incredibly easy to find a breadth of information on a firm’s website before turning up to a law fair (you can use our Find a Solicitor tool to search for firms by location and area of law).

‘Where are all the final year LLB students? There are so many first years!’

A lot of employers said this and we too couldn’t help but notice that this was the case at almost all the fairs we went to. Shout out to all the first years – well done for coming along! As I said above, it’s great experience for later on, but it’s also beneficial because lots of firms do have early years programmes on offer. You will be in a good position later on for an internship or a traineeship with some experience like that under your belt.

For those in final year, and arguably Diploma students too – I would really like to know what was keeping people away. Perhaps now that it's common knowledge that big firms often recruit well in advance, do those in later years feel like there isn’t a place for them with big firms? I certainly hope that this isn’t the case as fourth year is a prime opportunity for traineeship applications.

Whilst a lot of trainee roles are offered off the back of an internship (about 70%), it’s not all of them! Plus, maybe an internship would still set you up in a good position for future employment. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, and instead there’s a timetabling issue or final year students are just choosing to focus on their studies. Regardless, it was a slightly worrying observation that we hope won’t be made again next year.

We attend the law fairs every year to offer support to students, signpost opportunities and generally have a chat about your career. If you haven’t met us and you want some advice, email us at careers@lawscot.org.uk. And make sure you’ve signed up as a student associate so you can use our online careers hub, where all of our best employability advice for students lives.