Top tips for a vacation scheme

So you’ve secured a place on a vacation scheme and are ready to take a significant step towards your career in law. But how do you make the most of it? Ella Shanks, a trainee solicitor at law firm RPC, outlines some basic dos and don’ts to ensure your experience is a success.

  • Last updated Jan 23, 2019 12:22:36 PM
  • Article contributed by RPC

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something

We’ve all been there: a partner asks you to do something, you nod and say, “Of course, I’ll have it on your desk by 5,” then walk away and realise you have no idea what you’re doing.

The worst thing you can do in this scenario is waste time suffering in silence—remember, you will have a network of trainees, associates and secretaries who will almost certainly be happy to help in the first instance. If you’re still unsure, it’s OK to go back and ask for clarification, although you should try at least to show that you’ve taken some initiative and looked or asked in the obvious places.

Don't hit “Send” on an email without checking it

No matter how much pressure you’re under to send out an email, you should always take the time to check through it. Horror stories aside, spelling errors, forgetting to attach documents and getting names wrong looks sloppy and reflects badly on you and the firm.

Don't be afraid of networking

Networking events are one of the most intimidating parts of the vacation scheme for many people, but it doesn’t have to be so daunting. You don’t have to go and work the room on your own; it’s fine to stick with one of the other people on your vacation scheme and provide mutual conversation support.

However, avoid gathering in large groups where vacation-scheme students vastly outnumber employees of the firm—the value you get from these kinds of conversations will be limited. Consider setting yourself a target, for example to talk to five new people or even just to talk to one specific person who you know does the type of work you’re interested in.

Don't go in with a closed mind

You may have your heart set on a particular practice area, but you should go into the vacation scheme with an open mind. It’s great if you’re knowledgeable about an area of law and can talk passionately about it, but you should avoid doing this to the exclusion of other departments. For example, shouting from the rooftops that you’re a litigation lawyer through and through and you’ll never consider anything else won’t go down well in transactional teams.

If you’re placed in a team that you don’t think is your cup of tea, give it a chance, take on any work you’re given enthusiastically and you may end up changing your mind. Work in practice can vary hugely between different firms, and you shouldn’t rule something out until you’ve spent time there yourself. Even if you still don’t love it at the end, you’ll have made a good impression. Remember that as a trainee, you may be required to spend time in departments you don’t see as a career option—people will want to see that you can put in the time and effort regardless.

Don't leave your personality at the door

The social events on the vacation scheme are supposed to be fun— the firm wants to make a good impression on you just as much as you do on them. You should take the opportunity to build relationships with people at the firm by letting them know who you are outside of the office. However capable you are as a lawyer, people will want to know that you’re someone they (and clients) can get on with on a personal level, so don’t feel you have to spend the entire evening discussing financial trends to impress. That said, bear in mind that you’re in a professional environment with potential future colleagues and should act appropriately: don’t get drunk and avoid possibly offensive conversation topics.

Do get involved in all the activities the firm puts on during your vacation scheme

Socialising is an important part of the vacation scheme. The firm will likely have organised events for you with the trainees—not only do these serve as a great opportunity for you to ask questions about life at the firm from those who’ve only recently been in your position, but they’re also an opportunity for you to get your personality across in a more relaxed environment.

You can assume that everyone else on your scheme will be intelligent and capable, but getting stuck in at events and showing who you are outside of work will really make the difference.

Do your research on your team’s practice area

Doing some research on recent news, developments, legislation or cases relevant to the department you’re going to be sitting in before you start will give you a broader understanding of the work you are doing and doubtless improve its quality. Volunteering to write articles for your firm’s publications on current relevant topics is a great way to show dedication and to get your name out there within the team and beyond.

Do ask for feedback

Hopefully your firm has a system in place whereby you’ll receive feedback on your work during the vacation scheme, but you should never be afraid to ask for it if you feel it would be helpful. People might avoid conversations about work that’s not up to scratch out of fear of offending, but you’ll never learn if you don’t know what you did wrong. Politely asking for five minutes of someone’s time just to go through where improvements could have been made will help you enormously—it’s also a great habit to take with you throughout your career as a lawyer.

Do treat all work as important.

During your vacation scheme you’ll be asked to do a variety of work, some of which will probably include non-chargeable tasks such as preparing knowledge notes or internal files, or helping with business development. You should treat this work with just as much care as you would any other task. The same goes for tasks given to you by trainees, for example. Your output over the course of the vacation scheme will be viewed as a whole, and handing in even one piece of work that you obviously haven’t put sufficient effort into could detract from all the other good work you’ve done.

Do manage your time well and communicate openly about your workload.

Keep an up-to-date to-do list with deadlines for each task, so nothing slips through the cracks. If you suspect you might not be able to meet a deadline, speak up as soon as you can rather than carrying on and hoping for the best. Others might be depending on you in order to meet a deadline of their own—this can be more easily managed if you let people know in good time that a task is taking longer than expected.

RPC: what the trainees think

“I would describe RPC as innovative, diverse and forward-thinking. It’s a fantastic experience—I get so many different aspects of law because you’re working with all these different departments. It’s a really varied mix of work.” Ela Broderick Basar

“When I had the vacation scheme here, I felt that the partners and everyone throughout the firm were looking to invest in us in terms of training, and also in terms of understanding who we are.” Joe Akwaboa

To view opportunities at RPC, please visit the firm’s profile.

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