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Putting your best foot forward

Putting your best foot forward

The Victoria Law Careers Fair offers students a chance to sample a plethora of firms in one easily digestible format. While firms compete for the best a

The Victoria Law Careers Fair offers students a chance to sample a plethora of firms in one easily digestible format. While firms compete forthe best and brightest with glossy flyers and goodies, its the people you meet who truly matter. Alex Boxsell reports.

H oused within the You Yangs Exhibition Hall in the Melbourne Convention Centre, this year’s Victoria Law Careers Fair hopes to build on previous exhibitions with an increased attendance of law students from across Victoria. With 39 different exhibitors, firms are sure to jostle for the limelight, but it’s often their choice of articled clerk that can make all the difference.

It seems that a firm’s articled clerks make the biggest impression on budding lawyers. Adriana Abate of Maddocks remembers the clerks at the Fair as a useful and reassuring impression of particular firms. “I remember a few of them giving me their cards, and I felt like they were genuinely able to be approached after the fair,” she says. “They gave me tips on how to apply… and what the firm was looking for.”

As an Arts/Law student from Melbourne University, Abate attended the fair in her first three years of study. Although she initially intended just to gather information on each firm, she was enthused by the opportunity to speak freely with a wide variety of clerks in a relaxed environment. “I remember it being a really good way to compare all the firms in one room. It’s very rare that you’re able to do that … and actually speak to young lawyers from those firms, all at the one time,” she says.

In Abate’s opinion, the more young lawyers representing firms, the better. It made a huge difference “to know that people are friendly and approachable, and down to earth and also focused on their work”, she says.

Alex Dunlop, organiser of this year’s Fair and president of the Victorian Council of Law Students’ Societies (VCLSS), agrees. When he attended the last two Fairs, it was the articled clerks who gave him the best idea of what the transition from graduate to lawyer might be like. They were able to say “I was in your position. I was doing law school, I was trying to find a way into practice [and] I found this firm to be a great place”, he says.

Now a second year lawyer in Middletons’ litigation practice group, Christien Corns found the firm representatives to be a significant influence. “I was impressed with Middleton’s stall and the people there, and that certainly encouraged me to apply for [a] seasonal clerkship, which lead to articles,” he said.

The experience encouraged him to staff their stall for the previous two years, and he hopes to attend again in 2006. “I really look forward to it, because you can see how nervous some of the graduates are — and I probably was as well — and it’s really nice … to be able to assure them that the process is daunting, but it’s doable,” he says.

“Just to be able to meet people face to face is so much more reassuring than dealing with them in correspondence and phone calls. It’s a very important thing to keep going,” Corns says.

Maansi Gupta, an articled clerk at Blake Dawson Waldron who hopes to represent the firm at this year’s fair, valued talking to juniors because they were “somebody closer to my level, somebody I could relate to”.

Although her brush with Blakes’ clerks didn’t lead to a direct contact, Gupta “got a sense of the firm, which was reinforced during the seasonal clerk process”.

It is no secret that there is fierce competition for seasonal and articled clerkship positions. With upwards of 1,300 students expected to attend from five major law schools around Victoria, students will be desperate to make an impression. One of the ways in which they can hone their skills is to participate in mock interviews.

As Dunlop says, the aim of 2006 is to “continue to improve the content of the Fair and what students can get out of it. To that end, we have increased the number of mock interviews that students can do, which is a key feature of the Fair”.

A little like the legal world’s equivalent of speed dating, mock interviews offer students a 15-minute dress rehearsal with an HR representative. Twelve firms have elected to participate, including Allens Arthur Robinson, Deacons and Maddocks, up from the number participating last year. Students are encouraged to bring their CVs along in order to reproduce the interview process as closely as possible. “It’s a big feature, and a big attraction,” Dunlop says.

For a first-time attendee, a Fair with a multitude of attention-seeking exhibitors can be a rather daunting experience. “It was quite overwhelming, to be honest, because you walk in and there are 20 or 30 different stalls set up, very bright, and everyone’s trying to grab your attention, which makes you feel like a bit of a movie star,” Corns says.

But once they adjust to the marketing glitz, what do students most want to discover about a firm? Corns was eager to find a firm that would enable him to deal with major clients while having time to lead a life outside of work. Gupta hoped to discover whether she would be comfortable working alongside the sort of people who manned the stalls, as well as learning more about the recruitment process.

With a focus on medium-sized firms with a strong practice in commercial law, Abate was after “places where I had an impression there was a positive culture.” She valued the opportunity to work with large clients, but with a more individual focus and training. For Abate, the icing on the cake was the gym sessions provided by a personal trainer a few days a week, which offered a great chance to socialise with colleagues out of the office.

But in hindsight, Abate wished there were more practical guides, such as recruitment-based brochures, to make the application process less nerve-racking. “That’s what people are basically looking for — a firm that will fit and practical ways to make sure that their application stands out — to tailor their application to the firm,” she says.

In planning for this year’s Fair, the VCLSS tried to throw the net a bit wider, hoping to encourage international firms with an Asia-Pacific connection to attend, Dunlop says. And although the big firms have an unmistakable presence at the exhibition, the focus is certainly not on them alone.

Dunlop feels that as a student “you want to learn as much as you can about the options that are open to you. Not just in terms of the standard commercial firms, but community legal centres”.

Dunlop hopes that the firms still undecided about the merits of the Fair will realise how great the exposure can be — particularly given that every major Victorian Law School is represented — for, although final and penultimate students are the main focus, it is open to anybody to attend.

The VCLSS anticipates that other firms will follow the lead of TressCox, who decided to attend for the first time this year. Colleen Weiler, national HR director, says the firm’s “national attraction and retention strategy has been revisited to include current challenges such as Gen Y and aged workforce management”.

The decision to exhibit at the Victoria Fair is an effort to “ensure we have a solid brand in the market and structure to attract, engage and retain the best possible talent”, she says.

With attendance levels and numbers of exhibitors growing, the Victoria Law Careers Fair is certain to continue offering the best possible exposure to students for many years to come.

For a full list of the firms that will be at this year’s Victoria Law Careers Fair see pages 20 to 25.

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