If you are reading this after having secured a vacation scheme firstly a well-deserved congratulations are in order, as due to high levels of competition a place on a vacation scheme at any size of law firm is a massive achievement. The aim of this article is to help you ensure that you use this amazing opportunity fully to develop yourself personally and professionally. The article will also hopefully give you some insight as to what goes on during a vacation scheme, as many students have few firm ideas before they start. It must be stressed however this article is purely advisory and any guidance or instructions given to you by the law firm’s graduate recruitment team should be followed over and above this article.
Before the scheme starts
In order for you to make the most out of your scheme a good degree of forward planning is advisable in order for you to hit the ground running from the first day.
Organise your Accommodation and travel early
It may sound obvious, but you need to ensure that you have a safe place to stay during your internship and that your journey to and from work every day isn’t too arduous. As many leading commercial law firms are in London, you may find yourself having to relocate to the capital for up to a month depending on the length of your placement. Accommodation in London can be expensive and the most ideal locations may quickly become fully booked as interns from other law firms, banks and other businesses look for a place to stay. It’s smart to contact your firm to ask if they have any suggestions for where to stay and also ask any fellow interns on your vacation scheme where they are staying. Above all it is crucial to sort out our accommodation early on, as leaving it to the last minute can lead to higher prices, stress and disappointment. Many students stay in university halls for the length of their internship which typically offer more competitive prices and the opportunity to meet other interns staying in London.
If you live close to London it might be worth considering commuting to work every day. It’s worth remembering however that many firms hold social events in the evenings after the working day and it is undesirable to have a long commute compromise your availability for these events. Ensure that, before the first day of your placement, you have a route planned to get you to the office in the morning and some form of contingency plan if this route becomes unavailable.
Do your prior reading and research
A level of background reading can really help you make a good impression in the departments you’re placed in. If the firm informs you in advance of the practice group you will be sat in, then use the firm’s website and publications to read up on the type of work that department completes. This will not only give you a head start in understanding the nature and context of the work you are set, but will also demonstrate that you have genuine interest in working for that firm in particular.
Regardless of whether you are told about your seats before the scheme starts, its good practice to refresh yourself with the latest updates coming from the firm such as recent deals or any awards won. One great way to do this is to set up a Google News Alert for that law firm, which will ensure that you have the latest news on the firm emailed to you on a daily basis. Furthermore ensure that you regularly read the latest legal and business publications to stay on top of the latest developments in the industries you will be working with for the length of your vacation scheme. You may find the work you’re assigned involves new market trends making the front pages of the financial newspapers!
Communicate with people at the firm and other vacation scheme students
If you have any questions relating to anything to do with the scheme, it is best to email or call graduate recruitment as early as possible. Any problems or issues will be much easier to solve if you give the graduate recruitment team as much notice as possible.
Furthermore most firms will organise vacation schemes so that groups of students complete the scheme together. This means that you could have between ten and thirty other students to engage and work with during the scheme. Many firms organise pre-scheme social events which allows you to meet your fellow vacation scheme students. Attending these events is a fantastic way to engage with the people you will be spending the next couple of weeks with and to find out who on the scheme you can relate to. Whilst there is a lot to think about already, remembering people’s names on the first day is a great way to make a personal impact and establish a positive relationship with the other vacation schemers! Additionally many firms will use social media to ensure you can all stay in contact, so make sure you make the most out of any Facebook groups that are set up for your vacation scheme.
Get your paper work ready for the vacation scheme
Many law firms will require some form of official I.D. (many require a passport) along with your degree transcripts as a prerequisite before you can start the scheme. If you’re an international student you may also be required to supply visas or proof of the ability to work in the UK. Ensure that, by the start of the scheme, you already have these documents ready to hand in.
During the scheme
It’s common for vacation schemers to be assigned both a trainee buddy and an associate supervisor for the duration the placement. Your trainee buddy should show you round your office, introduce you to everyone in the department and be on hand to answer any questions you have on a more informal basis. Your relationship with your supervisor is likely to be more formal, as you will likely sit with them in their office and they should supply you with a good degree of work with feedback where relevant. These people will, most likely, be your main two contacts throughout the scheme and will also provide reports to graduate recruitment on your attitude and performance. It goes without saying that you should strive to maintain a positive professional relationship with them at all times.
Carry a pen and note pad everywhere
This is the one piece of advice that anyone who has ever completed a vacation scheme will give prospective interns. Keeping writing materials with you at all times during the working day will ensure that you can write down and remember the wealth of information you will encounter during the scheme. This is especially important on the first day, where you will likely be given important information on your placement which will include IT, professional standards, data protection and networking training.
Furthermore always retaining a pen and paper will allow you to write down the background and instructions you are given when you are tasked with a piece of work, which will help you to avoid asking repetitive questions which you may have already been given the answers too.
Learn the office dynamic
One thing that distinguishes individual law firms and departments is the working environment you will be sat in. Therefore learning how the office you’re located in functions is critical to integrating into the department and getting the most out of your scheme. Important things to learn vary from when and how it is suitable to ask people if they have any work for you to complete, to where the toilet and kitchen facilities are. Whilst entering an unfamiliar professional environment may seem daunting, your trainee buddy and supervisor should be more than willing to help you become accustomed with the office. An insider tip is to get to know the PAs and secretaries as they tend to be very welcoming to vacation schemers and frequently will be able to answer any administration questions in an understandable way.
It almost goes without saying that to make the most of your vacation scheme you should approach all the tasks you are assigned with enthusiasm, diligence and an open mind, no matter how menial they may seem. This is because by completing any work given to you to your highest possible standard, lawyers in the office will trust you to complete more complex, interesting and rewarding tasks. Many vacation schemers are scared to ask questions relating to their work when they first start their schemes as they think they’re stupid questions. If you are uncertain, look to other sources first to try and answer the question yourself and if this doesn’t yield the answer, be brave and ask the question when suitable as it’s much better to produce a quality piece of work first time round3, than have to redo the whole of the task you were set. Additionally some training contract interviews at the end of vacation scheme feature a discussion of a written assignment you have completed whilst in the office. The interviewer may have this in front of them, so ensure such an assignment is given your absolute best efforts!
Furthermore vacation schemes can be hectic, with students having multiple pieces of work to complete at the same time with social or networking events in the evening. Prioritising your workload is therefore very important, so ensure that you know from every person who sets you a task the deadline for that piece of work when they set you it. Knowing when your work is due will allow you to time manage efficiently, completing the urgent tasks first whilst finishing less urgent work later when it’s due. It will also hopefully allow you to leave work at a reasonable time and make any evening plans.
Keep a diary
A good vacation scheme will see you kept very busy with a combination of work, networking and social events meaning that it is absolutely vital to keep some form of log of your activities. It may only take 10 minutes every day after you finish work, but keeping a diary will allow you to do several things, including being able to reflect in detail on your work and achievements during the scheme, which will likely be the focus of any interview at the end of the scheme for a training contract. It will also help you to remember the names of the people you have encountered and worked with, as there is nothing more embarrassing than forgetting someone’s name when you’re addressing them.
Be proactive and take the initiative
Commercial law firms are naturally busy and sometimes pressured places and this will mean at some point during your scheme your buddy and supervisor may not be free to give you tasks to complete and learn from. In this situation they will probably advise you to ask others in the department to see if they have any work for you to undertake. Whilst knocking on someone’s door that you don’t very well to try and get some work is potentially intimidating, simply sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs does nothing for your own development or others’ views of you. Furthermore anyone who has completed a vacation scheme will say one of the worst situations is where you have no work to do and boringly spend hours watching the clock. Ensure you ask your buddy at the start of the scheme the best way to politely ask other lawyers in the office for work.
Make a good impression at networking and social events
Many vacation schemes will have a number of events to allow you to either network with professionals at the firm or to unwind and relax with the other vacation scheme students. Whilst networking events put on by the firm are a great opportunity to encounter everyone from trainees to partners that you wouldn’t otherwise meet, they can appear daunting if you have limited networking experience. If you’re not an experienced networker, taking some time to read up on how to network effectively is highly recommended. Ensure that you remember the names of the people you talk to and send a follow up email the next day thanking them for chatting to you, as this shows a professional and considerate attitude.
In contrast to networking events, social events organised by the firms graduate recruitment team give you more of an opportunity to get to know your fellow vacation schemers better. Whilst it is important to enjoy such events remember you are still associating with your work colleagues and graduate recruitment will be there also. Alcohol is likely to be served at most of these events so it’s wise to limit your consumption, as everyone is prone to embarrassment if they’ve exceeded their limit. Many lawyers and graduate recruiters will be able to tell you nightmare stories when a vacation schemer has had too much to drink!
Attend practice area presentations
A typical vacation scheme will see you sat in a maximum of two different departments, meaning that your first-hand experience of the variety of the firm’s work will be limited. Vacation schemes therefore often feature presentations and case studies from the different departments on the work they complete. Attending these, and taking relevant notes, is a great way to get a detailed insight into a practice area you want to experience in future.
After the vacation scheme has finished
Thank the firm
After completing your scheme you are strongly advised to send a personal email to graduate recruitment and the professionals you worked with during the scheme, thanking them for their support and the opportunity to work alongside them. This will ensure you make a lasting, friendly and professional impression with those who you encountered during your scheme.
Stay in contact
You may find that you build really strong relationships with some of the other vacation scheme students you work and socialise with. Staying in contact with them via social media or phone is a great idea, especially considering you are likely to be the future trainee intake and therefore working together again in future!
Update your CV
Completing a vacation scheme is great evidence of your commitment to the legal profession and your quality as a trainee candidate. Make sure that you update your CV, application forms and Linkedin account to properly reflect the skills and knowledge you have gained from the vacation scheme.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into what actually goes on during a vacation scheme and some ideas about how to make the most out of the opportunity. If you’re still seeking advice on anything to do with vacation schemes, ensure you use the careers office at your law school or university, as they are likely to have an abundance of information relating to any issues you might have. As mentioned throughout the article, many vacation schemes feature a training contract interview towards the end of the scheme. For further guidance on this please refer to this brilliant article written by Antonia Anderson on how to complete training contract applications and this article on how to succeed at interviews.
Good luck on your vacation scheme!
Aspiring Solicitors Student Ambassador for the University of Nottingham