Who can apply for vacation schemes?
For budding lawyers, obtaining a place on a vacation scheme can often be the golden ticket to securing a training contract. Some firms recruit future trainees exclusively through their vacation schemes. With the 2021/2022 application cycle starting to open, we talk you through the eligibility requirements you may have to meet.
Students & graduates
The good news is that law firms encourage vacation scheme applications from people at various stages in their legal careers. Undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates are all welcome to apply.
First-year undergraduates should note that vacation schemes are generally reserved for undergraduates in their second or final year of study (those studying a four-year course can generally apply from their third year).
Thankfully, first years need not fret. Many law firms have actually implemented schemes that are specifically targeted at first years.
Options for first years range from open days and insight programmes to five-day schemes. First-year students interested in life at a Magic Circle firm could apply for Linklaters’ Pathfinder, for example, which could see them fast-tracked through the vacation scheme application process, or Clifford Chance’s paid SPARK scheme.
First years: don’t be put out by the fact that you can’t apply for a vacation scheme. Stay on the lookout for initiatives that could help you stand out when it comes to making vacation scheme applications.
On the other end of the spectrum, many vacation scheme applicants have had previous careers before applying. For those already in the world of work, you should be mindful that you must be available to work for the duration of the vacation scheme.
Are you a science or history student with an interest in law? You’ll be pleased to know that vacation schemes are not just reserved for law students. Students and graduates across all degree disciplines can apply.
Non-law students often have to wait until their final year before making a vacation scheme application, although this isn’t always the case. Those completing the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) are generally considered non-law students.
As long as you can demonstrate a real interest in pursuing a career in law, your degree subject of choice is unlikely to stand in your way of obtaining a vacation scheme place.
A strong academic track record is still a prerequisite for many law firms. Often, students must be on track to achieve, or have already achieved, a 2:1 in their undergraduate degree. Sometimes applicants are required to demonstrate consistent 2:1s throughout their degree.
For those who have already completed the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and/or the Legal Practice Course (LPC), it’s worth bearing in mind that some firms require at least a commendation. A-level grades may also be taken into account.
It’s a good idea to check the specific requirements of the law firm you want to apply to, as academic requirements do differ from firm to firm. Some firms are now moving away from minimum grade requirements in an effort to remove barriers to the profession.
If you’re worried about your grades falling short of the criteria, look out for firms that make use of contextualised recruitment systems. These allow firms to understand the context in which grades were achieved, ensuring applicants with real potential do not fall through the cracks. Mitigating circumstances are also taken into account.
It’s rare for law firms to specifically require vacation scheme applicants to have legal work experience. Whilst legal work experience can help to demonstrate an interest in law, law firms also value transferable skills gained from working in other sectors.
Remember: a vacation scheme is an opportunity to gain some hands-on legal work experience and an insight into whether a career in law is right for you.
Those with enough legal work experience may even wish to apply for a direct training contract where the option is available.
Personality & values
Ultimately, law firms are looking for vacation scheme applicants whose personality, values and competencies align with the firm: they’re looking for their future solicitors.
When you’re satisfied that you meet all the eligibility requirements for a particular firm’s vacation scheme, you should check that you have the key competencies they want to see in its trainees. Remember to tailor your application accordingly.
Applying for 2021/2022 vacation schemes? Check out our Vacation Schemes Guide today!