It’s that time of the year again when firms open their doors to hoards of aspiring lawyers keen to get a taster of what life is like in a legal environment.
When it comes to exploring a legal career there is no better way than to spend some time in a law firm. This is however easier said than done as nowadays competition for vacation schemes is fierce. Firms are using them increasingly as a recruitment vehicle which means that the schemes have become more structured, often with the training contract recruitment process forming part of the scheme, and the firms, more choosy in deciding who to invite.
If you have been lucky enough to secure a place, make sure you get the most out of it. Rather than approaching your vacation scheme as simply some work experience, you should use it as a real opportunity to explore not only the career but also the firm. When reading the recruitment brochures, it may appear that all firms are similar. This is not the case however and even firms of the same size in the same location can be wildly different. The focus of and culture within each firm differs considerably and you need to find the right firm for you. Choosing the right firm is vital and you will know almost immediately if you feel comfortable – think back to when you attended university open days. I am sure that some universities were more appealing than others. The scheme is very much a two-way process. You are looking at the firm just as much as they are looking at you.
My top ten tips for getting the most out of a vacation scheme are:
1. Leave the application form /CV at the door
Don’t forget that you have fought off some tough competition to get your place so you should feel confident that you have the necessary intellect and ability.
2. Look the part
Many firms operate dress down policies which vary considerably from firm to firm and it is worth checking with a firm about their dress code. If in doubt wear a suit. Remember you want to be noticed for your ability and not the way you are dressed. Also, you do not want to miss out on a trip to court or to an important client meeting just because you look too casual. First impressions count for a lot and making the right impression is vital.
3. Have the right attitude
As already mentioned, it is taken as a given that you have the intellectual ability to do the job. You have the time during the scheme to create an impression and the best way of creating a good impression is to have the right attitude. Friendly, enthusiastic, willing and keen students are a joy and with these attributes you will find you will not only get good work experience but help ensure that the people you are working with will champion your application for a training contract.
4. Ask questions
A vacation scheme may be your first or only opportunity to see at firsthand what you are potentially signing up to in the future so you must seize the opportunity and find out as much as you can about the firm. Working with an array of lawyers ranging from trainees to partners is your golden opportunity to quiz these people about their lives; why they chose the career, what keeps them at the firm, how did they choose their practice area when qualifying and so on. Remember most vacation scheme supervisors are happy to share their room and are expecting to be grilled!
5. Social situations
These aren’t just the opportunity for you to completely let your hair down especially with regard to the consumption of alcohol. In fact this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Your conduct at these events will be reviewed to see what you are like in social situations. A lawyer’s social skills are now considered to be very important as the days of the “back room lawyer” are over! Even as a trainee you will be expected to attend client functions and /or deal with clients generally.
6. Read a quality newspaper
If you haven’t already got into the habit, now is the time to start. As well as practising as a lawyer you are part of a business so you need to know how that business is run. The same applies to your clients. They will expect you to know about their business – how else are you going to be able to properly advise them? Firms look for commercial awareness but how do you become commercially aware? Read the business pages – perhaps boring at first, but if you persevere they will build like stories (I promise!).
7. Have fun
Bizarre as it sounds but if you don’t enjoy the scheme then you really must question if the career and /or the firm is for you.
8. Avoid trying to name drop
It may be great that you have got the scheme because your dad plays golf with the senior partner but you can bore people rather quickly! You want to be on the scheme on your own merits and not through a back door route (even if this is the case). The other cardinal sin is constantly talking about what you did on another scheme with another firm. Enough said!
And after the scheme
Rather than returning home exhausted or falling straight into your next scheme, make some time to reflect on your scheme. Did you enjoy it, why did you enjoy it, was it what you expected? It is really worthwhile asking yourself these questions as you need to be absolutely certain if you later accept a training contract with that the firm that your decision is informed.
10. Keep in touch
Firms are human after all so, if you enjoyed your time with the firm, why not drop them an e-mail saying so. Everyone loves flattery and sometimes it can get you everywhere!!!!!
The very best of luck, be self aware but most of all have fun!