By the end of the first year, you will be acutely aware of the amount of study required to succeed. In the second year, you also need to spend time researching law firms, thinking about training contracts and applying for vacation schemes. You are going to be busy.
You may have got into the habit of starting assignments at the last minute, working intensely, with little time for breaks or sleep and just managing to meet deadlines. One problem with this approach is that you exhaust yourself. In the days after you have submitted a piece of work you will find you have little energy or mental capacity.
You may find yourself falling behind schedule until suddenly, your next deadline looms and you are forced to take the same approach. To succeed in your second and third year you need to work at a steadier pace. You need to work smart as well as hard. Universities take the wellbeing of their students seriously. They offer help with study skills and strategies to keep motivated and avoid stress. Make the most of the resources on offer to get the best out of your course and develop effective working practices. Remember that you are not alone. Arranging to meet with fellow students to work together may help keep you motivated.
Law firm vacation schemes are useful work experience and a great addition to your CV. Traditionally they take place during the summer break at the end of the second year, although some firms also offer spring and winter schemes. For firms, these schemes are an important part of the graduate recruitment process and some will select most or all of their trainees from those who attend. Rather than applying to every firm you can think of, do your research, shortlist those firms that you want to target and fill out fewer, better quality applications. Make the most of opportunities to attend careers fairs, taster days and events to help you find firms that are a good match to your skills and ambitions. Check deadline dates and get your applications in as early. Some firms have one deadline for all schemes, others may have a January deadline for spring and summer schemes and a November deadline for winter schemes.
You should take applying for a vacation scheme as seriously as you would a training contract. Some firms view them as part of the same process. You may have to complete an online application form or submit a CV and detailed cover letter. You will be expected to include relevant experience, skills and the areas of law you are interested in. Don’t forget to approach people for references. One can be a tutor or lecturer and the other could be a contact from work, volunteering, a society or sports club.
Some firms also require you to complete online tests such as verbal-reasoning, work-based competencies, personality type or critical thinking. Your tutors, or student support staff, should be able to direct you to some websites where you can practice these ahead of time. If your application is successful you may be invited to an interview, in person or online, or to an assessment day. Some larger firms may conduct interviews on campus. Again, make the most of the resources that your university has on offer to help you develop good interview skills and the confidence to present yourself well.
Once you have your vacation scheme applications submitted it will be time to think about applying for your training contract. For many larger firms, this deadline will fall in the summer after your second year. Luckily, the work you put in for your vacation scheme application will be very helpful. Many firms use similar application processes and forms. You may even be interviewed for a training contract during your vacation scheme placement.
Getting the balance right
It is important that you keep on top of your coursework during your second year to give yourself the best chance to get good grades. However, you also need to think about life after graduating and organise your time to allow for vacation scheme applications and interviews. It can be overwhelming, but your university has trained staff who can offer support, skills training and practical advice. Make the most of the help and resources on offer. Taking time to develop skills and strategies now will help you long after you have finished your degree.