The dos and don’ts of virtual vac schemes

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By Adam Mawardi on

Essential online etiquette

With the COVID-19 lockdown unlikely to be lifted anytime soon, virtual vac schemes and training contract interviews may become the ‘new normal’.

For today’s aspiring lawyers — a generation at ease with FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls — the transition should be a walk in the park (note, this does not count as your one walk-a-day permitted under lockdown).

But, to help you navigate this new virtual minefield, we’ve compiled our top ten tips on online etiquette.

1. Hoping to make a strong connection? First check your WiFi speed

Unless you want to be remembered as the pixelated candidate with a bad WiFi-induced stammering speech impediment, check your connection. A crispy video will require an upload and download speed of at least 4Mbps — test your Wifi signal here.


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♬ Circle of Life (From “The Lion King”) – The West End Orchestra and Singers

If your speed isn’t up to scratch, try: closing any unnecessary apps on your laptop; switching off any WiFi leeching devices you’re no longer using; getting as close as possible to your WiFi router (which may need rebooting if you haven’t done it in a while); avoid streaming — chill, you can have Netflix back once your vac scheme or interview is over; and turning off the microwave, as advised by Ofcom.

2. Master the tech

Oh, so you’re tech-savvy, fascinated by lawtech and have even taken up coding in your spare time? Hmm, seems hard to believe if you’re struggling with basic video conferencing tech. If possible, avoid troubleshooting mishaps by getting hands-on with the tech beforehand — especially if you’ve never used it before.

3. Check your battery

And make sure your device is fully charged or plugged in. Don’t let a dead battery mug you off and call time on your TC dreams.

4. Dress to impress

Risk averse lawyers have typically been wise to avoid fundamental fashion faux pas — from wearing brown suits to matching brown shoes with navy suits. With lockdown lowering the garb bar for remote-workers, however, it may be tempting for aspiring lawyers to dress the new part — which, according to one US judge, includes bathing costumes and birthday suits. But we recommend dusting off the corporate clobber and getting dressed head-to-toe to avoid looking like the guy pictured above.

5. ‘Hello? Can you hear me?’

Rather than live out an Adele song, test-out your microphone and audio settings to avoid prepped-answers falling on deaf ears. If you’re battling with constant background noise, opt for a headset with a built-in microphone or mute your side of the call if you’re not speaking.

6. It’s behind you!

Wait!? Is that a…

No one wants to see your secret collection of cereal bowls and coffee mugs, nor are people impressed by a mounting pile of dirty washing or your collection of kitchen sex toys. Either get spring cleaning or, if you’re using Zoom, opt for a neutral virtual background — as recommended by Clifford Chance partner, Dan Neidle (see below).

7. Camera, lights, action!

After checking your webcam works, focus on getting the lighting right. Give yourself a glow-up by facing towards the light source, so you’re not in darkness, and opt for natural light if possible. Once you’ve got your set-up ready to go, test your video before the call.

8. Eye contact is still key

Whether in-person or online, good eye contact is a must. Use your unloved law textbooks to raise your laptop to eye-level, and always look at the webcam, rather than the interviewer’s image on the screen. Avoid low-angle shots at all cost — the interviewer isn’t going to find any answers up your nose.

9. ‘Hey Siri, what are my weaknesses?’

Just as you would put your phone on silent, turn off any background notifications on your laptop that could create unwanted distractions. And for the Apple Mac-mob out there, it’s probably best to disable Siri.

10. Combat your cabin fever

Before your vac scheme or interview, do your best to shake-off any lockdown blues. Okay, so these are ‘strange and unprecedented times’ — but opt for a pragmatic, rather than pessimistic approach to the crisis. Take any opportunity to talk about your experience under lockdown and any new skills you’ve since developed — whether you’re volunteering or finally brushing up on those Excel skills.

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