Agree and Close
Making a Success of your Vacation Scheme
28th October, 2018
As we reach the end of October, application deadlines for winter vacation schemes are fast approaching. A vacation scheme is a fantastic way to understand the inner workings of a law firm and, at the same time, evaluate whether a career in law is likely to be suited to you. Schemes come in all shapes and sizes and are offered by firms from City to high street level, with opportunities usually available in December and over the summer.
I personally attended three vacation schemes, two in the City and one at Howes Percival. The experience I gained was invaluable, both in terms of understanding the legal profession and also building the personal skills required to appeal to prospective employers.
If you are fortunate enough to receive a vacation scheme invitation, the following points may be worth considering prior to your arrival at the firm on your first day.
Ask questions, take notes
It is a common misconception that qualified solicitors (especially partners) are ‘too busy’ to answer your questions. It is far more efficient to ask if you are stuck, rather than sitting and struggling for a prolonged period of time. That being said, I would advise that you attempt to solve the problem yourself first, prior to asking a question – this enables you to show your thinking and discuss the issue with the fee earner, demonstrating your willingness to learn.
Always carry a notepad and pen when receiving instructions and/or answers. Although solicitors are more than happy to assist when necessary, it can become frustrating when students fail to help themselves by taking an accurate note of exactly what it is they have to do. Not only will your notepad be a useful reminder when you get stuck, but it will also act as a diary throughout your scheme. You can then use this to update your CV when the scheme has come to an end, jotting down precisely the tasks you completed.
Speak to those around you, be friendly
The office environment can seem daunting at first, particularly as solicitors are often busy and have their heads down for the majority of the day. Although we do work hard, we also like to take time to relax for five minutes and have a chat. It is not just your professional efficiency that will be assessed over the course of your vacation scheme; those giving feedback will also be taking into account your willingness to be social, to say good morning and good evening and to join in with everyday conversation. It is of course essential that you do not waste time chatting when you have outstanding tasks, but building friendships with those around you will definitely work in your favour.
There may also be opportunities over the course of your scheme to attend social events organised by the firm, or externally. These are usually well attended and give you a taste of the social side of life as a solicitor, providing the perfect environment to have down-to-earth conversations with your supervisors. Remember, though; you are still being assessed!
Take your time, iron out mistakes
We understand that the tasks you are given on your scheme will often be your first real taste of practical legal work. We do not expect you to complete the tasks in record time, or without mistakes. It is not uncommon for students to rush through a task, taking the incorrect view that efficiency equates to success. We would much rather a task goes unfinished but contains excellent detail and minimal errors, as opposed to being handed a piece of work riddled with mistakes in half of the time allowed. Not only will a methodical and forensic approach to your work show you in a better light, it will also assist with your understanding of the topics you are covering. If you were asked, in August, to submit a university essay by 31 December, would you submit it in September without proofing it?
Enjoy it, do not be disheartened
Vacation schemes are hard to come by. As you will likely know, you often have to fill out a detailed application form just to be considered for a scheme, with some firms even having a two-stage interview process to determine whether you will be awarded a place. If you are successful, this is half of the battle. It is becoming more and more popular for firms to use vacation schemes as fortnight-long training contract interviews, with many recruiting their trainees solely from their schemes.
With all of this in mind, do not be disheartened if you are not successful on your first attempt, or three attempts, or five. The same goes for training contract applications. There is nothing worse than reading the words ‘you have been unsuccessful’; however, hundreds of others will have read the same, and a handful the converse. If you have the academics, the CV and the willpower, a scheme and a training contract will soon come.
If all goes to plan and you attend a firm for a couple of weeks, remember; enjoy it. A vacation scheme is a fantastic opportunity for you to assess the legal profession, as well as the firm you are attending. Attack your scheme with enthusiasm and energy. Be willing to volunteer, take on as much as you are able to, ask pertinent questions and show a desire to learn. All of this will be taken into consideration when assessing whether you would be the right fit for the firm and, perhaps more importantly, will dramatically increase your chances of being asked to interview for a training contract.