A vacation scheme is generally a two or three-week placement at a law firm where you engage in different legal tasks and assist the lawyers in a few practices areas of the firm to gain further insight into the firm and to experience life working as a solicitor there. The structure of vacation schemes differs depending on the firm; some may incorporate tests, presentations and/or other team-focused activities within them.
There are also usually, some social events and activities as well so that you get a chance to build strong connections with other vacation scheme students and with the lawyers at the firm and experience the firm’s culture.
Vacation Schemes are therefore an exciting and great way to experience the firm, but they can also be quite competitive. So, here are some tips that can help you stand out as a candidate and to make the most of that coveted vacation scheme:
Make sure you know the firm well
Make sure you do your research of the law firm beforehand, particularly about the key practice areas or sectors the firm operates in. Come to the vacation scheme prepared with questions to ask about the firm, things that would not be easily available online and that you can later reference/ use for your training contract applications and interviews. This will go a long way in demonstrating a genuine commitment to the firm.
Ensure any work produced is of high quality
Whilst some pieces of set work will be harder than others and minor mistakes may be understandable, you should always strive to produce work of the highest possible quality.
Proofread your work multiple times (you could even ask current trainee solicitors or other vacation scheme students to have a read if you think this might be appropriate) and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. An easy way to do this is to run a spellcheck and grammar check on Word before you send it off.
Your work should be presented in a clean, easy-to-read manner along with an executive summary at the beginning (where required) to make it as convenient as possible for the person who assigned you the task to understand the content. Pay attention to formatting and things like alignment, justification and whether or not the relevant words are in bold or in italics.
Additionally, check to see whether there are any particular fonts, templates or settings in Word that firms use as part of their “house style” and where possible, adhere to these. This can demonstrate your ability to absorb (and work in a way that aligns with) the ways in which the firm operates, whilst also ensuring that the people judging your work will approve of it stylistically.
As a minor cheat – all of the big law firms use practical law for their legal research. Might be useful to use it for your preliminary research – if you present your findings in the same way as solicitors from the company it would be easier to comprehend.
Make sure to always consider the intended recipient of your work as well. If it’s for a client, then ensure it is short, concise and to the point (unless you are told otherwise) and that the language is not too technical or full of jargon and acronyms. If the work is for a member of your team, perhaps ask how they would like you to present the work (a short summarised bullet-pointed version or a more detailed essay style analysis).
Socialise and build good connections
As important as handing in good quality work, is your ability to put yourself out there and network. Firms will look to see how well they fit in with the firm’s culture, including whether you are able to build a rapport with those around you. Be approachable and nice to everyone and build good, friendly connections with them. This includes the staff at the office as well (eg. secretaries, tea ladies, janitors). Get to know as many people as possible, perhaps ask an employee if they have some time to catch up with you over coffee or even just have a quick chat with you in the pantry during the break as this will also provide an opportunity to access further insights into working at the firm. Try and make sure that you have a list of questions or an idea of what you wish to discuss during this chat as this shows that you are well prepared and you will also be able to get more focused answers and useful information.
One way to approach this is if you are interested in a particular practice area or a case/ transaction the company worked on or even a new initiative of the firm, try finding and speaking to a lawyer perhaps who specialises in that practice area, has worked on that particular case/ transaction or has started that initiative.
Another helpful tip is to try and approach the more junior associates or current trainee solicitors at the firm, since they may have been through this vacation scheme process not too long ago, so they can better empathise with you and are also better equipped to answer any questions you may have about the vacation scheme and training contract process in general.
Socialising is also crucial since as much as the firm is picking you, you are also picking the firm. The more people you talk to, the more you will see and understand what life at the firm is really like and you will be more informed when deciding whether this is the right place for you to pursue your training contract.
No law firm expects you to be the finished product when you start their vacation scheme, but showing you are energetic and willing to learn goes a long way. If you do not seem enthusiastic when spending only a few weeks at the firm, this could give the impression that a year down the line, perhaps you will no longer care at all. In addition, a firm might be concerned that in the longer-term, a lack of enthusiasm could also affect the quality and consistency of your work, negatively impact upon the teams you work with and adversely affect the firm’s morale more generally. You can demonstrate enthusiasm simply by getting involved as much as you can with the work as well as the people at the firm, asking insightful and relevant questions and by remaining positive.
Always have a notepad and pen with you
This may sound like quite a basic tip but is an important one, that many candidates at times tend to forget. When a lawyer calls/messages you and asks you to go over to their office because they want to assign a task to you or discuss a matter, always bring a notepad and pen. It’s highly likely that they will be giving you instructions, and the last thing you want is to return to your desk after speaking to them and find that you’ve forgotten the details of the task you’ve been assigned. This will translate into a lower quality of work being done by you. Or you’ll have to sheepishly go back and ask the person to repeat themselves, which will reflect badly on you. Even when you are having a conversation, it’s always best to have a notepad in case the trainee solicitor or associate or whoever you are having a conversation with shares some really valuable advice/ tips and you wish to note those down.
This is your one chance to impress the firm so make sure you are being proactive and are seeking out opportunities to get involved. To do this, you really need to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there.
Sometimes, lawyers will specifically seek you out to help them with a task, but often, they might just message the entire trainee group and ask if one or two people are free to work on something.
This requires you to be very proactive – do not passively wait for things to happen. Actively seek out things that you want to work on. For example, if you have not received work from your supervisor, then talk to them about it. In such circumstances, you could always (with your supervisor’s permission) offer other individuals – or even other departments – a helping hand.
Or, if you have a strong interest in a particular practice area say, for instance, litigation, but you haven’t had the chance to do any litigation tasks yet, reach out to a litigation lawyer and ask if there’s anything you can do. Doing this will not only provide you with something to talk about during our exit interviews but will also allow you to get a holistic appreciation and understanding of the firm.
However, it is also important to not take the “be proactive” recommendation to the extreme and take on way too much work. There will be deadlines for each of the tasks assigned, and it is important to be able to complete them accurately and punctually (unless there are good reasons to ask for an extension). If you spread yourself too thin and take on five or six tasks all due at the same time, this may negatively affect your performance and you may not be able to deliver your best work for some of those tasks.
Take it as a learning experience
Finally, doing a vacation scheme can be tough and mentally taxing. There is so much to consider, and you are constantly worried about whether you are doing things right. Therefore, treat it as an opportunity to learn, and to reflect on whether being a lawyer at the said firm excites you and is this what you want to do for the next two years. Don’t think that this is the be-all and end-all of your career. If that is not the case or if you truly tried your best and didn’t get offered the training contract, do not worry. There are tons of other opportunities with direct training contract applications, or for vacation schemes in the next year. Therefore, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and enjoy your time at the firm as well.
Nirali graduated with a Distinction upon studying the full-time Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP University. She is currently working as an in-house Legal Advisor for a company in the Middle East.
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