Networking – Asking the RIGHT Questions

As students prepare to return to universities, whether physically or virtually, law firms will be scheduling visits to careers fairs, networking events and planning insight days, all of which are great opportunities to broaden your knowledge of the firm and network with its employees. This article outlines the types of questions prospective applicants should be asking and recommends a 5-step approach to ensure you are asking the RIGHT questions.

R – Researched – avoid asking questions which can be answered by doing a 5-minute search of the internet

I – Instructive – is the question you’re asking informative to you? Does it broaden your knowledge of the firm?

G – Germane – is your question relevant to that employee’s role within the firm?

H – Harmless – will this question offend the person you’re asking it to? Could it damage your chances of success with the firm?

T – Tailored – ensure that your questions are relevant to the specific firm whose representatives you’re speaking to and their role within the firm. For example, a question concerning elements of the application process is better directed to a member of the graduate recruitment team rather than an equity partner.

Trainees are a fantastic source of information for students regarding the structure of the training contract. They are often closer in age to students and may seem more personable and approachable than their more experienced colleagues. The following are the types of questions trainees are best placed to answer:

  • What amount of supervision do you receive while training?
  • What level of responsibility are you given by more senior colleagues?
  • How much direct contact do you have with clients, if any?
  • Do you receive all of your work from one partner, or from a few?
  • When you’re given a task, do you find that deadlines are communicated effectively?
  • In a typical week, how many hours do you work?
  • How likely are you to receive your preference seat on your training contract?

Associates will, of course, be able to answer all the questions listed above, but they also have valuable insight into other aspects of the firm such as career progression. As they are now qualified solicitors, asking them to recall particular elements of their training contracts may not be the most appropriate use of their time. Instead, try using the following examples to guide your questioning;

  • What career progression can you expect at your firm?
  • How is work allocated to associates?
  • Are you well-supervised?
  • Do you receive good and regular feedback on the work you complete?
  • Do you have direct contact with clients? If so, how much?
  • What are your firm’s partner eligibility requirements?
  • Is there a ‘route to partnership’ scheme at your firm?
  • What made you want to qualify into your current department?

Unfortunately for students, partners are rarely included in the delegations sent to universities. However, if you do have the chance to speak to one, make sure you tailor your questions to their level of experience. The nature of equity partnership means that partners are very well placed to discuss the strategy and direction of the firm. As their time is precious and expensive, try using the below pointers to guide your questioning:

  • What made you stay at your current firm, considering the increasing partner mobility in the City?
  • As one of the key decision makers within the firm, where do you think your firm could improve? How?
  • What is the firm’s strategic vision?
  • What level of collegiality is there between partners and their teams?

In addition to the guidance above, is it important to conduct research before attending networking events. If you know the specific employees who are attending, a quick 5-minute read of their LinkedIn profile will allow you to ask more specific (and impressive) questions. For example, if they have moved firms, ask why they left and what attracted them to their current firm. If they have worked on any particularly interesting deals or matters, research it and use that to inform what you ask.

Finally, graduate recruitment teams are a goldmine of useful application tips and advice. As these are the people who will eventually be reading your application, it is crucial that you leave a good impression.   

  • How many stages are there to the application process?
  • What tasks will successful applicants have to complete on the assessment centre?
  • Are you intending to hold any other events on our campus?
  • How does your team promote diversity and inclusion when reviewing applications?

Remember that these are guidelines only, and you should conduct your own research before attending the networking event to ensure you are getting the most out of it.

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