Vacation Schemes – Why Getting One Matters
Vacation schemes are some of the best legal work experience you can get.
Especially if you plan to get your training contract with the same firm you took your placement at.
But getting this sort of experience in a law firm can be just as hard as actually getting a training contract. What can you do to give yourself the best chances?
The schemes are important (and sometimes paid!) so it’s worth making getting a vacation placement your number 1 priority. However it’s not impossible to get a training contract without one; it just makes your whole application go a little smoother.
What exactly is a vacation scheme?
Basically it’s a legal internship usually based in a large law firm which can last 1-4 weeks. It’s a great way to get legal work experience and see if a legal career in a big law firm is right for you. When you’re on the work placement you could be doing a number of things.
There will be quite a bit of shadowing so you can see what the typical day consists of for a solicitor, but you will also be expected to do some actual work.
You could be undertaking some basic research, looking up a case / piece of legislation for a solicitor, undertaking paperwork & filing and you may even do some drafting & letter writing. You will probably get paid if you’re doing your scheme at a firm based in a city; sometimes up to £200 per week.
Why should I get one?
The application process, as explained below, is rigorous, and pretty similar to the actual training contract applications. This means if you’re successful in the vacation scheme application, the training contract application process should be nice and familiar to you too.
Probably the best reason you should do a vac scheme is the continuous opportunity to prove yourself. It’s like a 2 week interview in itself. If you make friends, or impress people during your time there it’s going to make your chances of getting a training contract much more likely.
Instead of being a faceless nobody on your application you will be remembered – there will be a face, personality and wealth of other skills attached to your name.
The experience you gain will even be valuable if you’re applying to a firm which you didn’t do your placement at. Also it shows a strong desire to work in the legal sector which is often something which you are asked to prove during training contract interviews.
What the applications are like & when to apply
The applications are very similar to training contract applications. Although not quite as intense. Usually there will be a written application stage, interview stage and maybe assessment day stage. Basically follow all of the rules and advice which is stated in the training contract section and you should be find. Ideally firms will want students who are on course for, or already have a 2:1. There also may be an A level requirement in terms of minumum UCAS points.
Firms will also like to see at least some prior work experience like a week in your local high street solicitors or at least a court visit. Try and show something else which demonstrates an interest in law besides your degree. A good reference from your tutor or lecturer can also do wonders for your application.
But when should you apply? Both graduates and non graduates are accepted. But you don’t want to have it too early – the firm may have forgotten about you when you come to apply! A good time to do the schemes would be in your second or third year. That way the experience of the placement is still fresh in your (and the firms!) mind.
What are the vacation scheme deadlines?
The deadlines change quite a bit and at the moment we don’t have the resources to continuously update a list. We don’t want our information to be out of date and cost you a place on a scheme. Although most vac schemes are done over the summer, some are also offered over the Christmas and Easter period. For this reason it’s best to check each firm you’re interested in and note their actual dates.
A quick tip: You can use Google Alerts to notify you by email when a new opportunity is posted / updated on a firms websites. Simply type in “vacation scheme UK” or “Law firm placement” and you will be notified. This is a great way to seem dedicated by being the first one to apply for a new opportunity.
While on the scheme
How exactly do you make a good impression while on the placement? It’s a good idea to treat it like a full time job; don’t just think over it as just another piece of work experience, even if you’re not getting paid. So be professional, and certainly be ready to learn. Most of what you should do while on the scheme is common sense.
Be polite, respectful, enthusiastic and work hard. You may also be invited to social occasions outside of work hours. These social events are just as important and as much of a test as what you do in the office. Handle these with class; don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself and have fun, but don’t do anything stupid. It’s about finding the right balance.
Do make sure they remember you though, and preferably for the right reasons! You could have been exceptionally polite, a very hard worker, had great legal knowledge or just known the latest legal news really well. Do something to stand out.
A good idea is to send a follow up email to your mentor a few days after the scheme finishes. Thank them for their time and tell them how much your learned during your time at the firm. Hopefully this will increase the chances you will be remembered – especially if you’re the only candidate on the scheme who does so.