You know already that vacation schemes are half the battle to securing your training contract—after all, so many firms recruit directly from their vacation-scheme intake, with some not even looking beyond this group. Even if you don’t end up working for the firm at which you did your scheme—or even if you decide against law entirely—having a vacation scheme on your CV is a huge asset.
These aren’t the only reasons to do a vacation scheme, though. If you’re genuinely passionate about becoming a solicitor, you’ll relish the opportunity to do real work within a firm for a week, network with partners, associates and trainees, and experience a firm’s culture first-hand. You’ll come away with a whole host of experiences that will inspire you professionally for years to come. Here, a number of former vacation-scheme students share their most memorable moments from their vacation schemes. If you’re struggling to find inspiration to apply, have a read!
Discovering a new area of law
The first thing to know about law is that you’re unlikely to be a jack of all trades: once you qualify, you will enter into a specific department, and you’ll likely build your career within that area of practice for many years. With this in mind, you’ll need to have a strong sense of what areas of law interest you.
This is something you’ll be exposed to on your training contract, in which you’ll move through around six seats, each in a different area of legal practice. But it’s also something you can experience on a vacation scheme, as Charlie Davies—current trainee and former vacation schemer at Ashfords—found out.
“My most memorable experience was working in the Business Risk and Regulation department,” he said in an interview with us. “I personally had never heard of this area of law and had no real desire to learn more. However, as I spent more time I learned more about the department and was presented with cases they had worked on—including the M5 crash by Taunton Rugby Club [in 2011]—which really influenced my opinion on the utility of that area of law.”
Go into your vacation scheme with an open mind—you may be strongly veering towards criminal law, for example, or corporate law, but a stint in the firm’s M&A or Real Estate department might change your focus!
Meeting like-minded people
Vacation-scheme cohorts vary in size from firm to firm, but it’s likely that you’ll have some peers that start at the same time as you. Getting to know them throughout the week will no doubt be a valuable experience, and might make the experience less daunting!
But you should also remember that if you’re on a vacation scheme, the recruiters most likely identified that you’d be a good fit at the firm—so you’re likely to have some things in common with trainees, associates and partners across the firm. Don’t be afraid to network with them, too. “The most valuable experience, I found, was just gaining an insight into the firm,” said Charlie. “I developed skills ready for the assessment at the end of the week by talking to the trainees and the other interns. The whole experience made me feel confident and prepared for the ultimate assessment.”
Nathan Jolaoso, who did a vacation scheme at Taylor Wessing, also found his interactions with legal professionals to be a hugely rewarding component to his vacation scheme. “I had organised to meet with a senior counsel from the dispute team to talk about our presentation, but then afterwards, we ended up speaking for another 45 minutes about our personal opinions on areas of politics and racial identity,” said Nathan, who is a future trainee at the firm. “I think it was just an offhand comment that triggered it—but it showed me that people at Taylor Wessing really do have time for everyone who comes through the door”.
Wherever your law career takes you, interacting with your colleagues and clients will be a huge component of your day-to-day life. The first taste you get of networking with like-minded people could be what convinces you that you’re suited to the firm. Go into each interaction with an open, curious mind.
Making a valid contribution
There are some similarities between vacation schemes and standard work experience. You’ll get a sense of the company, meet some employees and get the opportunity to make an impression. But that’s where the similarities end. Vacation schemes are paid, and you’ll likely have access to a whole programme of insight talks, seminars and networking events. In return, you’ll carry out real work and contribute to the department.
Doing this kind of work in a law firm before you’ve even left university is an invaluable opportunity. “A memorable thing was being asked to research a really niche area of education within corporate law,” said Rebecca—also known as SimplyLawStudyBlog on Instagram. “My supervisor was really impressed with my research and said it really helped progress his workload. He said I had completed the task better than a trainee would have done. That was really great to think I had assisted the task at hand and aided its progression for the client.”
The level of responsibility given to vacation schemers may come as a surprise—and if you’re suited to the firm and to law, it should be a pleasant one. “I was very surprised and impressed by the amount of trust the firm had in us to allow us to meet clients,” said Kishan, who did a vacation scheme at CMS and is currently a trainee there. He describes how a highlight for him was going to clients’ offices to meet with the legal team, to “run a meeting with members of the legal team and learn about the business”.
The reason why a firm is willing to give so much responsibility to vacation-scheme students is because it recognises their potential and wants to build them into trainees. It also gives you a real taste of law, so you can confirm whether the firm is right for you. Kishan said that being given responsibility by CMS “showed me that CMS is invested in my development, and that as a trainee I would have the opportunity to continue challenging myself surrounded by a supportive network”.
Tempted? Four top tips for securing your vacation scheme place
If you want to follow in the footsteps of these former vacation-scheme students, you’re in luck—now is the prime time to apply, with applications opening from this month and closing in late January. It’s a competitive process, though. Make sure your application is among the most impressive by following our top tips.
Research the firm. Each firm offers a different combination of practice areas, has a different culture, works with different clients and will invest in its trainees in different ways. It’s crucial that you know all of this before, so you can tailor your application to the firm and really highlight how your values align with theirs.
Make no mistakes. It’s a tall order to write an application form without making a single spelling, grammar or factual error—but this is exactly the type of scrutiny and attention to detail you’ll need to apply to legal documents. Proofread your application, run it through Grammarly, get a friend to read it, and you should be good to go.
Identify your competencies. A trick for application forms is to realise that when the question asks you to describe an experience or a situation, it wants to know what competencies you’ve gained from it. Make a list of all of your competencies before you fill out the application.
Apply well ahead of the deadline. Not only could this decrease your waiting time—firms review applications on a rolling basis and might respond earlier than you think—it also ensures that you won’t be scrabbling to get the application in an hour before the deadline closes.