What is a first-year insight scheme?
First-year insight schemes are work experience programmes aimed at giving first-year students an insight into a particular law firm and legal practice. They also offer first years the chance to meet legal professionals.
There are very few weeklong schemes, which are usually a mixture of work shadowing and workshops. Far more firms offer open days or insight programmes instead. First-year insight schemes are really intended as an introduction to firms, as well as preparation for vacation scheme applications in the second and final year of university.
Why do firms offer them?
Firms have now introduced them simply because of the sheer volume of inquiries they receive from first years asking about work experience. It’s also a chance for law firms to attract promising students earlier on—insight schemes only really became popular recently, but we're starting to see the first cohort of trainees made up in part from former insight-scheme students.
If you can get a place on a first-year insight scheme, it will be a great asset to your career. You'll understand what a law firm is like much earlier in your application process, and might even get a sense of what practice area appeals to you, or what type of law firm you would see yourself in. Also, you'll be able to talk to partners, graduate recruiters and current trainees about their experience. This kind of networking is best mastered early on in your career; getting the practice in early, as a first-year, can only be a good thing.
Which firms offer first-year insight schemes?
The number of firms offering some form of first-year insight scheme has increased as of late. From Clifford Chance's first-year SPARK scheme, to BCLP's London Insight Scheme, there are a variety of options now out there. Unlike with vacation schemes, first-year programmes tend to vary significantly from firm to firm. Some will last for just a couple of days, others will extend as long as a week. It might take you some time and research to figure out which programmes are suited to you.
If you're in first year and fulfil some other criteria, you might be eligible for specialist schemes, such as Eversheds Unlocked, for example—a scheme specifically aimed at those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to break into law. This one is aimed at real earlybirds - it takes on students in their first year of A-Levels.
What if I don’t get a place on a first-year insight scheme?
Whilst they are fantastic opportunities, don’t be too deflated if you don’t manage to secure a place on a scheme. It does not reflect on your suitability for a career as a solicitor in a top firm.
You could take a look at some of the other ways you can gain work experience in your first year. Applying for work experience at smaller firms is good start. You don’t even have to do anything law-related, even something as simple as getting a summer job in a shop or call centre can be as beneficial as a place on a summer insight scheme. Real work experience will give you the chance to develop your commercial awareness and workplace skills.
If you want to get into a particular area of law, like commercial or banking and finance law, you might even want to get work experience with the type of client you might be dealing with as a qualified solicitor in that area.
Concentrate on your grades
Perhaps the most important thing of all is to concentrate on your studies. Vacation schemes in your second and final years are far more important and many firms offering these schemes will only accept applications from those who got a 2:1 or above in their first year.
Be resourceful, explore all your options and all the possibilities to maximise your skills and develop experiences that will make law firms jump to offer you a vacation scheme in your second or final year.
Next article: Law firm open days