Well-rounded law students tip the scales in their favour when applying for articles.

Wits University’s laws students were afforded the opportunity to interact with prospective employers on May 13, 2022, where they found out that they would need more than good marks to secure employment.

The Wits Graduate Recruitment Programme (GRP) held its third careers fair of 2022, in collaboration with the Wits law students council, at the DJ Du Plessis building on West Campus. “Some of the companies which were present were recommendations… based on which companies students wanted to see,” said GRP intern, Gcina Mgcina (25).

Recruiters included South Africa’s top five law firms as voted by The Lawyers Global Legal Awards 2021 for South Africa (Bowmans, ENSafrica, Spoor & Fisher, Webber Wentzel and Werksmans Attorneys, respectively). Expertise included mining, corporate and commercial, technology and full-service law, which enabled students to think about possible specialisations and what they entail.

Brittney Goldberg (23), a final year LLB student, said that candidate attorneys work on a rotational basis at big firms, allowing for exposure to “a variety of different sectors in the law field.” Smaller firms are more hands on and allow for “more exposure to different clients, projects and develop more skills… as there are less candidates in the business,” she said. Working hours differ, with bigger firms sometimes requiring candidates to work through the night.

Nombasa Mazwai (24), Pinsent Masons Africa LLP recruiter, said that students asked questions about what the firm looks for in candidates, such as, “what can I do to stand out?” and “do marks matter?”

While most of the firms still need candidates to have a grade average of 65% when they graduate, it is but the first step. “Your marks have to be good enough to get you in the door for the interview. Once you’re in the door they [the firm] really look at a lot more,” said Jamie Battersby (25), a recruiter from Webber Wentzel.

Other criteria include jobs held whilst studying, involvement in university societies, sport and drama production participation, and volunteer work. “They look for people who are interesting… or people who stand out,” said Battersby.

These sentiments were shared by Layla Akhalwaya (31), Norton Rose Fulbright’s graduate recruitment and human resources business partner, who said that the firm “[looks] for personable skills as well”.

Akhalwaya added, “We encourage candidates, beyond just the academics, to also get involved in as much on-campus activities and initiatives as possible.” Due to the type of industry candidates are entering into “we want them to get involved in as much community work as possible,” she said.

Kellyn Chetty (21), a Wits LLB student, said that an example of an extra-curricular activity that was suggested is participating in the Public Interest Law Moot Court Competition. The competition provides students with the opportunity to debate over hypothetical law cases and refine their skills. This competition is organised by the Wits school of law’s centre of applied legal studies and the student litigation society.

The careers day, Chetty said, provided a “nice opportunity to network yourself” and ask questions. It allowed students to understand the firms’ cultures and ultimately determine what it takes to be taken on as a candidate attorney.

FEATURED IMAGE: Norton Rose Fulbright’s graduate recruiter, Carly Lakin (24), engaging with laws Witsies at the Graduate Recruitment Programme’s laws careers fair. Photo: Tannur Anders