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Exclusive: City law firms to cover vac schemers wasted expenses amid COVID-19 disruption

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Large number of spring programmes put on hold

City law firms have pledged to cover postponed spring vac schemers’ wasted expenses, Legal Cheek can reveal.

In recent weeks we’ve seen a number of law firms heed government advice and postpone their spring vacation schemes in view of the COVID-19 crisis. The majority were due to run from Monday (30 March) until early to mid-April. A total of 18 law firms have taken this action so far.

Now some law firms have said they will reimburse reasonable expenses incurred by students as a result of planning for their now-suspended spring vacation schemes. Typical expenses to be refunded include but are not limited to pre-booked flights, train tickets or hotel accommodation. The first port of call would be to claim a refund directly with the company but failing that, all of the law firms we spoke to said they’ll step in and cover the cost. So far this hasn’t been an issue at any of the firms we were in contact with, and no student has been in touch to claim a refund.

The majority of law firms have said they will reschedule their spring vacation schemes at a later date this year, with most citing the summer depending on what the situation is then.

The law firms we spoke to are currently working with the individuals affected to find a suitable time to reschedule their spring vacation schemes. One City outfit said: “We’re gathering [the students’] availability to make sure we can accommodate as many of [them] as possible during the summer.”

Some law firms have merged their spring vacation schemes with their existing summer ones, whilst others have scheduled an additional week or two in the summer exclusively for their spring vac schemers. Legal Cheek understands this is unlikely to affect the number of training contract offers a firm makes.

Another law firm told us:

“We’re going to do everything we can to find an alternative date that works for our spring vac schemers. The scheme will then proceed as normal, including in relation to remuneration.”

So while some spring vac schemers were looking forward to being paid what can be around £400-£450 for each week they work with a firm whilst on a vac scheme, Legal Cheek can confirm all of the firms we spoke to said they’ll be paid once they take part in the rescheduled scheme.

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This may be problematic for students that will have lined up multiple schemes in both the spring and summer — the dates may clash and they may find themselves being unable to make a revised spring scheme date. In this instance Legal Cheek understands some law firms are offering the option to be interviewed directly for a training contract. However, competition for these places will be limited. It is unclear at this stage whether students opting for this route will be remunerated.

Spring vacation schemes are predominantly open to final-year students and graduates. The latter are likely to be working, and will have taken time off to complete the scheme (whether paid or unpaid). It is unclear from our conversations with law firms what the likely recourse for these individuals will be.

Much uncertainty abounds the novel COVID-19 virus and so it’ll be interesting to see how all this pans out. The UK is facing lockdown for a minimum of three weeks with some saying social distancing measures may well be needed for up to a year. Vacation schemes are open to students and graduates from across the UK and overseas to experience life at a firm, and often have a number of social activities scheduled for the week(s).

Five-hundred students and future trainees tuned in this week to our first virtual event, ‘What does COVID-19 mean for future lawyers’, to hear the Legal Cheek team discuss the impact of the pandemic on vacation scheme and training contract start dates. Despite the optimistic discussion, eighty-four percent of participants thought summer vac schemes will not go ahead as normal. It remains to be seen whether the pandemic impacts the next application round but some students voiced concerns that virtual interviews for upcoming schemes are already starting to take place. With moves towards more agile ways of working, could we see virtual vacation schemes becoming a reality?

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