How to secure a vac scheme

Advice from those who’ve done it

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As Burges Salmon’s vacation scheme application deadline nears, Legal Cheek Careers headed over to Bristol to speak to the firm’s graduate recruitment manager and three of its trainees who themselves completed work placements at the firm.

We’ve condensed their advice into seven points.

1. Quality not quantity

“Law school can be quite ‘dog eat dog’, with a certain degree of one-upmanship,” reflects first year Burges Salmon trainee Sakshi Buttoo (pictured left). “So it can become easy to panic and assume that everyone is applying for loads of training contracts.”

That is, to a certain extent, how Buttoo felt, and looking back she believes that she “initially went for quantity over quality.”

It was when Buttoo changed tack and decided to apply to just four firms that her luck changed. She remembers:

I planned each application form question like I would a university essay, drafting a response in Word which I then checked over very carefully.

2. Research the firm thoroughly

When Harriet Diplock (pictured right) decided to leave her job as an events manager to pursue her ambition of becoming a lawyer, she knew she’d need sponsorship for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) to make it possible. So she read widely about the legal market and the different types of firm within it, before attending a host of firm events.

“I knew the type of culture that I wanted and as I found out more I could see Burges Salmon fitted that exactly,” she recalls.

Another way to gain detailed insight into firms is to send follow requests to a few of your target firms’ trainees, recommends Buttoo. “If you add a note in your LinkedIn follow request explaining that you are looking to find out more about the culture of their firm, then I am sure many will accept,” she suggests, adding that trainees tend to use LinkedIn more than Twitter to highlight CSR and other activities they are involved in.

3. Think about how you show your commercial awareness

Developing your commercial awareness should go hand-in-hand with learning more about the firm you are applying to. Certainly that was the case for trainee solicitor Philip Kershaw (pictured centre), whose interest in renewable energy was one of the reasons he opted to apply to Burges Salmon. He explains:

By following over a period of time a story about the refinancing of solar projects — an area I myself was very interested in — I was in a position to include a good level of detail in my application form, and then talk about this in an informed way with the partner at my interview.

4. Tailor applications to the firm

Having good grades, excellent attention to detail and a nice way with words is not enough — if you don’t tailor your application to the firm.

“This is the main reason that otherwise strong candidates do not reach the assessment centre stage,” says Burges Salmon graduate recruitment manager Frances Bennett. She adds that a key section of the firm’s vacation scheme application is the “additional questions”, continuing:

This part of the form really differentiates candidates, and makes it very clear who has spent the time tailoring their application and who has used more generic answers.

5. Be yourself

The trainees in Burges Salmon’s current intake are aged between 22 and 48 and come from a wide variety of different backgrounds.

This diversity came as a relief to Diplock, who was initially worried that as a career changer she may not fit in. She comments:

Within the firm there is, among others, a former tank driver and a former opera singer, so I very much feel that I can be myself.

At the application stage, continues Diplock, “it’s important to let your personality come through and show how any previous experience equips you to join the legal profession.”

6. Show that you are a team player

There is “big respect” for team players at law firms, agree the trainees, who recommend that applicants emphasise their aptitude for collaborating with colleagues. Says Buttoo:

When I was a student I used to think that to become a lawyer you just needed to be good at law. But actually other things are really important too. People remember the smiley face who offers them a cup of tea every morning.

7. Don’t leave it until the last minute

50% of vac scheme applications come in during the last few days before the deadline, Bennett tells us. “The optimum time to apply is probably a week or two before the deadline,” she advises. “This sends a clear message that the candidate is committed and organised.”

Bennett says that her team note the date when forms are submitted. “Seeing that a form has come in at 11.59pm on the deadline does not make a great first impression,” she adds.

Find out more and apply for Burges Salmons’s spring and summer vacation schemes here.

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