Law Vacation Schemes – An Essential Guide

Law vacation schemes are a must for any aspiring solicitor who has yet to secure a training contract.

Ideally, a strategy for getting on to multiple vacation schemes must be considered at an early stage of your studies.

Law Vacation Schemes – The Basics

There are many formal vacation schemes run by the large to medium-sized firms and many of the other firms will be happy to give you a week or two legal work experience in their practice. Some schemes are run exclusively for non-law graduates, however, most are for mixed law and non-law graduates.

Law firm vacation schemes are usually between two and four weeks working within the firm under the wing of a qualified solicitor, and often alongside the trainees. Many of the schemes of the commercial firms come with a weekly ‘salary’ as well.

Whilst there are more vacation scheme places on offer than there are training contracts, competition for them is still fierce as many candidates apply to do more than one. It is therefore essential you spend a good amount of time producing high-quality applications to stand a chance of bagging one yourself.

The Importance of Law Vacation Schemes

Law firms will expect applicants to show they have a keen interest in the law and the legal profession. One of the main indicators of this is having good quality work experience on your CV.

Getting this legal work experience is an important step along the way to becoming a solicitor for two main reasons:

1. It allows you to sample life as a solicitor at first hand to help you decide whether it’s for you and, if so, which area of law and law firm you might be best suited to.

2. It can result in you securing a training contract at the same place. Many firms use their work experience placements and vacation schemes as part of their extended interview process.

With the increased competition for training contract places participating in a vacation scheme or similar usually vastly improves your chances of securing that elusive training contract.

Aim for Law Vacation Schemes at Multiple Firms

As mentioned above, one of the main reasons for getting work experience is to help you research different areas of law and different law firms to assist your decision as to where to apply for a training contract. Firms are well aware that you may be shopping around and, in fact, would look positively on you doing so.

Our recommendation, therefore, is that you aim to undertake at least three vacation schemes/work experience placements with three different firms. You might choose firms that vary in terms of work they do, their location and their size. This will give you a much better feel for which might suit you best and will display to potential future employers that you have been serious about carrying out your homework and deciding on where to apply.

Vacation Scheme Dates & Application Deadlines

Most vacation schemes take place during the summer although some firms do also run easter and winter schemes.

For the summer vacation schemes, applications often need to be in before the end of the January or February of the year of the scheme. However, dates do vary so you should always check the vacation scheme application deadlines the year before you wish to get on a scheme.

For a great resource listing out many firms’ application deadlines for the law vacation schemes see the Lawcareers.net Work Placement Deadlines

What to Expect from a Law Vac Scheme

Law vacation schemes and other legal work experience placements vary from firm to firm.

Many will involve being assigned to a junior lawyer or trainee and helping them out with basic jobs for their supervising partner or extended team.

Work you might expect to be given will include legal research, basic letter writing, note-taking at meetings, photocopying and bundling of documents.

How much of a firm you will get to experience will again vary from firm to firm. Some firms will move you around between departments whilst others will keep your experience to just one department. You can always try requesting to get experience in the departments you are most interested in but this is not always possible.

As well as working as part of a departmental team, you may also attend seminars put on by the firm which gives a greater insight into the firm and their training contract.

As part of the more established law vacation schemes, you will participate in organised social events such as softball, quiz nights or just a night in the pub. These are a great way to get to know your potential future work colleagues better but you must be aware that most of these events are seen as an extension of the firm’s assessment of you.

Therefore, you must be mindful to act in a professional way and not let yourself down by taking too much advantage of the free bar. By all means, have fun with those around you but be sure to conduct yourself in a mature and appropriate manner at all times. In the current market, you should not underestimate how important it is for you to impress when you get a place on a law vacation scheme.

How to Ace Your Vacation Schemes

History is littered with promising candidates who have shot themselves in the foot by not approaching their law vacation schemes in the right way. Here are some tips on how to successfully navigate a vac scheme both in and out of the office.

In the office

  • Be yourself
  • Don’t be a wallflower – try to be pro-active and get involved in things
  • Do not sit in silence without anything to do – ask to be given some work
  • Do not spend personal time on the phone, internet, email or your mobile phone whilst in the office – leave this for outside of office hours
  • Be enthusiastic about everything you do even where the tasks are mundane – this will create the right impression of willingness to work
  • Be inquisitive – ask plenty of questions and show your willingness to learn and get something out of your legal vacation scheme
  • Ask the silly question – if you do not understand something then ask. You will do more harm if you don’t and then you produce a poor piece of work as a result
  • Don’t be competitive with others – perceived arrogance or trying to get one up on others will be frowned upon
  • Treat all support staff with respect – they often have a lot more power in the recruitment process than you might realise
  • Dress appropriately – smart business dress is almost always required. Do not turn up in dad’s ill-fitting suit or in the latest (unprofessional) female fashions.

Out of the office

  • Be yourself
  • Do not get involved in any office gossip or bad-mouthing any of your potential future colleagues
  • Be grateful if you are provided with social events – do not moan about the venue, the food or the wine
  • Do not get drunk on free booze and make a fool of yourself – remember you are still being assessed even on social occasions where everyone is letting their hair down
  • Leave romance at the office door – do not have any dalliances with fellow work experience members or other staff at the firm no matter how tempting
  • On your nights off do not overdo it and turn up with a stinking hangover the next day
  • Always plan your travel time with a bit of leeway to ensure you turn in good time for each day

Vacation Schemes Are Often the Key to Success

So to summarise, you must understand the importance of getting on vacation schemes to you securing a training contract.

As well as being part of the extended interview process for the firms you secure them with, they will also impress other firms you apply to directly for a training contract.

Carefully research and consider the best firms to get vac scheme experience with, work hard on your applications and interviews and then follow the do’s and don’t above to make a great impression whilst you’re at the firms.

If you can so that, there will likely be a training contract with your name on it!

Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one to one coaching to those struggling with training contract, vacation scheme or paralegal applications and interviews. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>

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