Vacation schemes: the basics
A vacation scheme is a period of work experience offered by a law firm to students looking to experience what life is like as a solicitor. But it’s not your stereotypical coffee-making, photocopying work-experience placement. For one or two weeks, you’ll be trusted with real work and given ample opportunities to experience the culture of the firm. Oh, and you’ll be paid.
Vacation schemes are available to law and non-law students, but not usually to first-year students. There are specific schemes, insight days and open days tailored to first-years, with vacation schemes reserved for students in second year or later.
When will I do my vacation scheme?
Many vacation schemes take place in the summer months, outside of university term time. There are also a number of vacation schemes in spring and winter. The deadlines for the latter fall earlier, and the intakes are usually much smaller than those of the summer schemes.
Summer vacation schemes tend to have their deadlines on or before January 31.
What happens on a vacation scheme?
Every firm is different, and as a consequence you can expect the vacation-scheme experience to vary from firm to firm. Most firms offer some sort of work shadowing, giving you the chance to observe and experience life in one or two practice areas. There will also be a range of seminars, talks and workshops to integrate you into the commercial and business side of law, as well as Q&As with partners, associates or trainees. All of this will be interspersed with networking opportunities, socials and—in some cases—a visit to one of the firm’s international offices.
It’s a two-way street
It may sound like a great opportunity, but any vacation-scheme student should be aware that it’s a two-way street: not only are you checking out what it’s like to work at the firm, the firm’s graduate recruiters will be observing how well you fit in. Lots of students secure a training contract at the firm where they do their vacation scheme; some firms recruit exclusively from their vacation-scheme intake.
There are numerous benefits to doing a vacation scheme. It increases your chances of getting a training contract, either at the firm where you complete your scheme or elsewhere. It will give you a sense of whether law is right for you—if so, the areas of law and types of law firm that suit you will become clearer when you do a vacation scheme. Even if you decide against law, a two-week scheme at a top law firm won’t look too shabby on your CV.
You’ll also be paid for the duration of your vacation scheme, so there's no need to worry about living costs and accommodation while you’re working.
How to get one
If you’ve not been convinced already, a vacation scheme is an invaluable experience, which means that places are very competitive. You’ll need to do your research, convey your commercial awareness and put as much time and effort into your applications as you would a graduate job. It may seem like a lot, but if you secure a training contract as a result of a vacation scheme, you’ll be thanking yourself further down the line!