The first year in your Law degree can seem at times like a blitz of obscure academic terminology, careers advice and late nights poring over the judgements of Lord Denning. However, there are some genuinely discernible paths to gaining a foothold on the long, legal career ladder beyond attending the Law Fair alone. Hopefully some experiences outlined below will prove to be of use to you, exploring open evenings and days, as well as why you should apply to be law firm ambassador here at Birmingham.

In first term, one of the best way to start is to attend as many open evenings with various law firms as possible: Hogan Lovells’ drinks reception held at the Pitcher & Piano in Brindleyplace, and the DLA Piper Pub Quiz are two examples of this. Both were accompanied by insightful discussions with partners, the graduate recruitment team and trainees alongside the usual host of canapés and drinks law firms use to entice prospective applicants – the prize for the winning team of the Pub Quiz in the past has been a selection of iPod Shuffles.

Other firms hold their events on campus itself; recently Freshfields, Linklaters and Allen & Overy to name a few have all been present and talking to students here at the University of Birmingham, and if you haven’t had the chance to experience one of these such talks yet, look out for and ensure you save yourself a place on them in the future. The information you receive can highlight the particular qualities a firm looks for, their culture and how the firm is evolving; all invaluable insights you can then replicate and demonstrate an understanding of on an application form.

Drinks and prizes aside, focusing on the former and bringing along a notepad to jot down both names of those you are talking to and some quotes that you can work into the narrative of your own application later is highly useful. It adds weight to any Vac Scheme or Training Contract application in as much as firms like to see that you have a progressed along with your degree with some kind of accompanying story between yourself and the firm. However, many law students I’ve talked to approach networking with a sense of dread – “What am I supposed to ask this partner?” or “Perhaps if I recite the entire of their recent transaction in Dubai and several quarterly reports, that will do it?”

There are easier ways to approach networking that allow you as an applicant to gain a feel for the firm you might be applying for: tailor your questions to the individual you have approached: a partner, by asking about the firm’s overall strategy going forward; for a trainee, ask about the training itself, why they settled on their Training Contract or what the culture of the firm is like; with Graduate Recruitment, ask what particular qualities stand out to the firm in applications, and so on. These questions are the most useful in building a picture of a firm and answering that question for yourself and the application form – ‘What differentiates us from other firms?”

Towards the end of the academic year watch out for First Year Open Days with firms. Typically these are all expenses paid regarding travel and a fantastic way to gain a lengthier insight into a firm by spending a day at one of their offices. Alongside being both more structured and detailed then open evenings, they often also have useful workshops and taster sessions on negotiation skills, the structure of a corporate deal or presenting a pitch. You may experience talks by partners, a panel discussions with trainees or a competitive task.

In participating in Taylor Wessing’s open day, for example, we were tasked with working as a team to choose and sell one of several entrepreneurial pitches to a panel of partners; myself and several students from the University of Cambridge formed the winning team, making a strong impression and receiving £30 Amazon vouchers in the process! At Hogan Lovell’s Open Day we were tasked with negotiating a side of a deal for our clients, as well as placed in shoes of a client themselves. This enabled the realisation of potential business considerations clients face on a daily basis, and how this interacts with the work of a corporate lawyer. If you’ve yet to gain formal legal work experience, these are incredibly useful taster sessions in terms of the type of the work you might end up doing as, as well building a picture of the world of corporate law itself.

These days will allow you to confirm at an early stage which firms you are interested in with some certainty, which will focus your applications later on. Again, they also enable candidates to work the event into their own personal story again later: showing a continued interest in a firm throughout your studies shows you have given thought to your career, as well as laying the necessary base to work from on your application from.

Finally, Campus Ambassador roles are highly sought after. At past and present A&O, BLP, Dentons, DLA Piper, DWF, Freshfields, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters and RPC have all had opportunities available to represent them at UoB. This article in Legal Cheek illustrates nicely why this can act as a great boost to a prospective applicant.

If you’re interested in learning more about careers in law, make sure you follow CAL careers on Facebook, Twitter and keep an eye out for opportunities via their weekly Canvas announcements.

-Written by Chris Walker, SET member and Law student at The University of Birmingham