Your vacation scheme
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Summer has finally arrived! For corporate keen-beans, there’s more to the holidays than vitamin D, ice cream, Aperol Spritz and listening to the latest Ed Sheeran anthems on repeat, because summer means that vacation scheme season is upon us.
What are vacation schemes?
Vacations schemes are placements allowing you to gain specific, structured, insight into a law firm, getting a flavour of a firm’s culture and what life looks like both as a trainee and more senior lawyer. A law degree is certainly not the only route into law and whether you’re a law student, recent grad, or looking for a career change, a vacation scheme could offer you a good insight into (check out some examples of different paths to a training contract here). There are lots of questions which often bubble to the surface when vacations schemes are mentioned, I’ll try and cover a few below but this is by no means a comprehensive guide to vacation scheming.
Why should you apply?
A vacation scheme is one of the best ways to get to know a firm you’re thinking about applying to – seeing first-hand what life looks like there, what the people and culture are like, what kind of work goes on and what interests you. Gauging culture is one of the hardest tasks as a student, arguably made harder by virtual interactions, but it gives you an important steer as to whether a firm is for you. You’ll also build your skill set – confidence, commercial awareness, efficiency, and communication. If you’re still unpersuaded, statistically, there is a higher chance of being offered a training contract with a firm if you’ve done a vacation scheme with them.
What happens when you get there?
Let’s say you’ve jumped all the hurdles to get a coveted spot on a vacation scheme – well done! What about when you get to the firm? You’ll arrive suited and booted. Assuming it’s in-person, you can guarantee you’ll be in the office at least 09:00-17:00, plus there may be some evening social activities. If it’s online, firms can take quite divergent approaches, you’ll likely have your time filled from 09:00-17:00, but time spent in front of a screen can vary between firms. Virtual or in-person, these are insanely better hours than your supervisors so make a really conscious effort not to complain or yawn, and to offer help before you leave, since there’s nothing worse than a clock-watcher who leaves at exactly 17:00. Realistically, your supervisors want you to leave on time and they’ll appreciate that a vac scheme can be an intense, tiring process and your role is not one which requires you to be working late into the evening.
Throughout most schemes, you’ll be placed in at least one practice area where you’ll have a trainee buddy and a more senior supervisor who will give you instructions, work and advice throughout your time with the team. Whilst you’re not in your seat, there will likely be events run by graduate recruitment, such as talks from the different practice areas, ongoing independent work, different skills workshops (e.g. mitigation, interviewing, negotiating etc.), and evening socials.
Basics: Master your handshake. Be punctual. Be polite. Speak to everyone. Dress appropriately. Glass in left hand. Smile. Don’t complain. Make a very conscious effort not to offend (sounds obvious, I’ve seen peers and students make pretty controversial comments, it doesn’t always reflect well).
Competition: I found my vac scheme really tiring – it felt like I’d won a place on some kind of corporate Big Brother, or strange version of The Apprentice with all eyes on me, and a lingering sense that one wrong move would send me packing. This definitely wasn’t the case in hindsight. Firms may have enough space to offer all of their vacation schemers a TC, in which case, there’s no need to let any competitive streak get the better of you. Above all, don’t try and step on your peers, get too big for your boots, or let anxieties turn you into someone you’re not: #1 your peers are your friends, don’t compromise that by trying to get one-up on them; #2 everyone in a firm deserves your respect – you’ll come into contact with catering staff, secretaries, IT support, security, post distribution teams, receptionists and so many more people in a firm aside from lawyers… they play an important role in making a firm a fun and well-functioning place to work, so get to know them as well as lawyers.
Catch-ups: you’ll meet a whole host of people on a vacation scheme – use that network, regardless of seniority. Use trainees for any awkward questions, things you’re not quite sure about or to find a connection if you fancy a foray into learning about a different area of the firm – they’re sure to be able to find a friendly connection to put you in touch with if they don’t have answers themselves. But don’t shy away from more senior lawyers. The partner who first ever interviewed me for a scheme at a firm presented several times on my vacation scheme; we caught up for coffee and still check-in to chat about law, fintech and life more generally. I know this isn’t always easy but relationships and role models are important, and super useful, so try not to do yourself out of a chance to make contacts.
Goal: Daily tasks might typically include research, checking documents, perhaps drafting a letter, document or updating documents for the team and these projects may feed into interviews. Watch how the professionals do their job and mimic them. You’re supposed to be a sponge that’s taking in everything around you, choosing the best of it and growing. That’s the goal. To see if being a trainee is for you and begin the first tentative steps in the right direction. Good luck!