Jan 17, 2022

Written By Thomas Cserep

Can I gain work experience in an in-house legal department?

Jan 17, 2022

Written By Thomas Cserep

A vacation scheme is a great way to get a flavour of the legal industry and find out whether you want to pursue a career in law. While vacation schemes are offered by private practices, we discuss what kinds of similar programmes are on offer with in-house legal teams and what your placement would involve.  

Vacation schemes – what are they?

Vacation schemes are work experience placements at law firms, which are primarily aimed at university students in their first year of higher education. They are designed for students who want to get a taste of what it is like working in the legal industry. As the name suggests, they are usually offered in the university breaks, including Christmas and Easter holidays. Unlike training contracts – which take 2 years to complete - vacation schemes only last for 2 weeks.

Contrary to popular opinion, vacation schemes are open to both law and non-law students alike. They are very different from 2 week work experiences in other industries, as you will not be sitting around making coffee or fetching documents from the printer. Instead, you will be given the opportunity to shadow a solicitor and support their work through responsibilities such as carrying out research and taking notes at meetings.

As training contracts are becoming more competitive, it is highly recommended to do a vacation scheme as some firms only hire future employees from a pool of past programme participants.



In-house legal teams – the basics

Unlike solicitors in a private practice, in-house legal teams work in the legal department of a non-legal firm. Their only client is the company they work for and they support their employer in all legal matters. As in-house solicitors work in a business environment, they need to have good commercial awareness. Their work helps the company operate more efficiently and increase profits, thus playing an intrinsic role in the running of the business.

Working in an in-house legal team is a highly rewarding experience as it allows you to see how your legal work directly helps your employer succeed. In addition to working in many areas of law, you will also have the opportunity to develop skills such as business acumen that you otherwise wouldn’t at a legal firm. 


Are in-house vacation schemes a thing?

Yes and no. Vacation schemes are only offered by private practices. However, in-house legal departments of companies and organisations do offer programmes known as legal internships. In contrast to vacation schemes, legal internships can last anything between month and a year, giving you a more extensive work experience. 

Your role as an intern in an in-house legal department will be very similar to one on a vacation scheme. From proofreading documents to attending meetings and doing administrative work, by the end of your placement you will have a good idea as to whether or not you would prefer working in an in-house legal department as opposed to being employed by a law firm. 

A significant number of companies that run in-house legal internship programmes also offer training contracts that meet the requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). It is a widely known fact that in-house training contracts are much more competitive that private practice ones. Therefore, if you are leaning towards taking the in-house route, we highly recommend you do a legal internship beforehand to strengthen your application. 

Even though you cannot do a vacation scheme with an in-house legal team, the opportunity to do a legal internship instead offers you the possibility to carry out the same responsibilities on your placement, all the while giving you the chance to experience working in the legal industry for a longer period of time.