Can you do a vacation scheme in your first year?
For those in the early stages of their legal career, a vacation scheme can often be the first experience of life at a law firm – but are they open to first years? We break down the options available to first-year students wanting to get a taste of life as a solicitor.
Who can apply?
As many budding lawyers will know, securing a vacation scheme is often a key milestone when pursuing a career in commercial law. And, although people at various points in their legal careers – including undergraduates, graduates and postgraduate students – can apply for vacation schemes, unfortunately, first years are usually the exception.
When it comes to undergraduates, most law firms pitch their vacation schemes at those in their second or final year of study. Non-law students are usually only able to apply in the final year of their undergraduate degree.
Having said that, first-years and second year non-law students shouldn’t feel too disheartened about not being able to apply for a vacation scheme: there are other options available.
Some law firms run insight programmes specifically targeted at first-year law students or – as is often the case – penultimate-year non-law students.
Just like vacation schemes, some of these programmes allow students to undertake paid work experience at a firm, offering valuable insight into key practice areas, industry sectors and the needs of clients.
The length of these programmes varies, but they are usually shorter than vacation schemes. Whilst vacation schemes can range anywhere between one week up to four weeks, insight programmes tend to last between three days and one week.
Firms offering one-week insight programmes include international firms Osborne Clarke, CMS and Norton Rose Fulbright – the latter two both having called their scheme ‘First Steps’. Clyde & Co’s Bright Futures programme is aimed specifically at supporting candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, offering nine months of mentoring in addition to a week at the firm.
First-year students setting their sights on life as a Magic Circle lawyer can apply for Clifford Chance’s SPARK scheme and could even end up being invited to a training contract assessment day. Elsewhere in the Magic Circle, Linklaters offers a two-day insight programme.
Other shorter schemes include TLT’s three-day programme aimed at first and second year students.
As you can see, the opportunities really are endless – and to think you were worried about not being able to apply for a vacation scheme!
If you don’t manage to secure an insight programme, applying for open days is another great way to learn more about the wider legal profession and what law firms do.
At an open day, you’ll hear from current trainee solicitors, partners, and members of graduate recruitment, who will readily provide application advice and interview tips. This is an added bonus for when the time comes to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts.
You’ll be glad to know that open days are offered for first year students at most law firms – from City firms like Slaughter and May to US firms like Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Increasingly, open days are being held virtually, allowing you to gain a snapshot of life as a lawyer from the comfort of your own home.
Insight programmes and open days can often be competitive, involving formal written applications, and even interviews and assessment days. Another alternative is to look out for events that can boost your career prospects without the drawn-out application process.
One example is Fairer Access Into Real Experience – or FAIRE – run by national firm Browne Jacobson, aiming to break down barriers to the legal profession for 16-19 year olds from low socio-economic and minority backgrounds. This virtual event sees thousands of attendees get involved in workshops and have their questions about law answered by esteemed guest speakers.
Despite being unable to apply for most vacation schemes, first years have a plethora of options available to them. Remember to keep an eye on deadlines for insight programmes and open days, and don’t be afraid to think out of the box when it comes to searching for legal work experience.
You can learn more about what a vacation scheme is on our dedicated vacation scheme page.