I got a call yesterday from a firm in my town inviting me to a reception for interested 1L students on Monday. I've never been to one of these before and was wondering if any of you could clue me in as to what I should expect. Any tips, tricks of the trade, etc would be appreciated.
Thanks for the help!
Do it, and do your best to make a good first impression on whoever you may end up talking to. No need to force anything. The worst transgression we noted at firm events last year was what we called the "cocktail block:" when two or more people are talking, someone busts in and goes straight to the firm rep to introduce themselves, thus blocking the otherwise friendly (though occasionally awkward... not all attorneys are personable) cocktail conversation. Meeting future employers/recruiters as a 1L bodes well for you next year, and the more you do it the more likely you'll connect with someone that's going to remember you.
Example: Last year, I talked for awhile w/ the recruiting coordinator of a firm when they came for a panel discussion on the firm's practice in climate change law. Also talked to the two partners and an associate/alum who gave the talk, but I probably hit it off best with the coordinator first time around. I thanked the person afterwards via email and let them know I was very impressed with the firm and was looking forward to talking with them again come OCI. When OCI hit this fall the same team of 4 showed up, and it was great hanging outside the interview room and chatting it up w/ the coordinator again while I waited to interview. They all remembered me from the casual conversation 5 months prior and that put me at ease... and trust me, I didn't do anything at the reception besides show up, eat the food, have a few drinks and talk about sports. Make sure you send emails afterward to whoever coordinated thanking them for the event (and anyone you feel gave you good advice), and plan on staying in touch with them down the road. Even if you don't think you naturally do well in those settings (most people, including myself, feel incredibly awkward at most of those events), it's worth going for practice.
Getting to meet people in person is also the best way to differentiate yourself from all the other resumes they're going to see down the road. And if your resume doesn't particularly shine and you end up in the middle of your class by the end of 1L year (like I did), the extra effort you put in could make a difference. An employer is only advertising your school to their clients and possibly some journal next to it... everything else about your qualifications basically comes down to whether their people want you building a practice in their office.