Three future trainees give their top tips
Many wannabe lawyers will find themselves completing vacation schemes this summer in pursuit of the ultimate reward — a training contract.
Ranging in length from a few days to a few weeks, what they entail is often a mystery, leaving many aspiring solicitors unclear as to what to expect.
With law firms’ summer schemes just around the corner, Legal Cheek has sat down with three soon-to-be trainees, who successfully converted their spells of work experience into TC offers.
David is a future trainee at a national firm, while Emily and Hannah are future trainees at international firms.
Below they answer six common vac scheme queries that seem to surface around this time of year.
How should I approach any tasks I am given?
Firstly, read through the task and make sure you understand what you are asked to do. If you’re a bit unsure, don’t be phased — just make an effort and try your best. I think it’s important to be proactive so do your own research around the matter. Often on vac schemes you’ll be given access to tools such as Westlaw and Practical Law so look for useful practice notes that might help you tackle a task. If after doing your own research you are still struggling, you can always ask your supervisor for a steer in the right direction. It can also be useful to ask for a template to make sure that your answer is structured correctly.
Remember that you are also assessed on your time management skills. Though planning is an important step, don’t spend too much time on this! Instead make sure that you leave yourself enough time to write and proofread your answers before submitting them.
With enthusiasm. It might not be the most interesting piece of work but some of the tasks you’ll have as a trainee are likely to be similar. By showing interest and enthusiasm for the not-so interesting, more senior lawyers will see you as someone they can turn to for meatier tasks.
But also, think about the implications of each task you’ve been given, the audience it is for and the level of understanding they have and adapt your communication accordingly. There’s no point using complex legal jargon for work that a client needs, but there’s also no need to over-explain for a quick briefing note that is going to a firm partner.
If you’re really stuck, reach out to people. Get in touch with your trainee buddy or speak to a trainee you’ve been working with in the team — this also shows your ability to collaborate and work well with others.
Think about the way you present your work and try to make it as polished as possible. Make sure to proofread your work so you can avoid typos, grammatical errors, and formatting issues.
Manage your time efficiently and make sure to meet any deadlines you’ve been set. If you’re not going to meet a deadline, communicate this to your supervisor.
How would you prepare after being given practice areas?
Not all law firms will give their vac schemers practice areas — especially if your vac scheme is virtual. Instead your firm might organise talks and tasks from across different practice areas. If this is the case, don’t worry! You can still prepare by researching how the firm’s sectors are structured and who the key clients are within each practice area. Doing this will develop your understanding of where the firm sits within the legal market and how it distinguishes itself from competitors — something you are likely to be asked about in your exit interview.
This is where your commercial awareness comes into play. Think about what is going on in the world that will affect your practice area and think about the firm’s clients. Combine this together and ask: “how could what is happening in the world be affecting the firm’s clients?”
You could follow the firm on social media for the practice area related updates — this will give you a good steer on the current events the firm’s lawyers consider to be important for their clients — and for those who prefer to listen over read, some firms have podcasts with specific practice area focuses.
Don’t forget to keep track of current affairs that affect the firm’s business generally, as that will have an effect on your assigned practice area. Legal Cheek is a great way to keep track of what is happening within the legal industry, and there are also general business news podcasts that could be useful too.
Do some reading around the practice area so you know the types of matters the team might be working on. Take a look at the firm’s news page so you can find out about any big cases or clients of the firm. This serves as good background knowledge if someone in the team mentions a case or a client. Whilst research and preparation are helpful, I think it’s also important to remember that you’re not being assessed on your knowledge and expertise of a certain practice area.
How can I stand out on a vacation scheme?
Nothing makes you stand out more than enthusiasm. Ask a lot of questions during talks and take notes. If your vac scheme is virtual, don’t turn off your camera! Instead look engaged and smile. You can also schedule one on one coffees with lawyers and other staff but remember to be considerate of everyone’s time — people are very busy at a law firm!
It is also important to be friendly no matter who you meet during your vac scheme. Show the same level of enthusiasm when speaking to a paralegal as you would if speaking to a partner. Focus also on being friendly to other vac schemers, especially during group tasks.
It’s important to be engaged and eager to get involved, but I think the most important way to be memorable is by being yourself. Ultimately, grad rec knows you meet the academic and skills requirements on paper and you can show this through the tasks, but firms want to know whether you fit with the culture of the firm. By making sure to show your personality, and your unique selling point, it’ll help you to be memorable.
I think you just need to be enthusiastic, friendly and try your best with the tasks — you don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to stand out.
How can I showcase my enthusiasm in such a short time?
Be inquisitive about everyone and everything you hear about. Avoid going into a vac scheme with strong opinions about which practice area you’re interested in. Instead walk into the scheme with open eyes and eagerness to learn more about every aspect of the firm.
Another easy way to demonstrate enthusiasm is by practising active listening. Nod when someone is talking to you, take notes, ask clarifications if you don’t understand something and importantly, smile!
Listen and try to engage with everyone you speak with. This might be a bit trickier virtually, but it helps to position the webcam of your laptop level with your eyes so it feels as though you are making eye contact with whoever you’re speaking to. Keep a notebook to hand at all times and take notes that will help you with tasks or things you’d like to remember. Again, if your vac scheme is virtual, try to keep the notebook in frame so it’s clear why you’re looking away.
Make sure to be friendly and approach everyone with a smile and every task with a positive attitude. Be mindful of your capacity but see if there are any meetings or client calls you can attend or if there are any extra pieces of work you can get involved in — don’t spread yourself too thin though as most likely you will also be assessed on your time management skills. When you catch up with your supervisor or members of the team ask sensible questions to show your interest in the matters you and the team are working on.
How should I prepare for an exit interview?
Though exit interviews can have additional elements to them, such as a presentation, remember that it can also be an interview such as any other. Chances are that you have already been interviewed by the firm before getting onto the vac scheme so the interview will not be a complete unknown.
Before your interview make sure to look through your notes and reflect on your experiences during the vac scheme. Be prepared to explain how you think you could have done better and which part of the scheme has been your favourite. During the interview, try to calm your nerves and focus on being friendly to the interviewer. Don’t forget to introduce yourself to any new people, make eye contact and smile!
The preparation for the exit interview can begin during your vac scheme. Spend a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect. It might help to focus on some of the following: what you learnt, how what you’ve learnt has convinced you that this is the firm you want to work for, the real-world implications of the tasks you’ve completed, your feelings about this. Exit interviews can require some self-reflection so if you’ve already done the work, the answers will come a lot easier in the interview.
Depending on the firm, it might also help to look over your application at the things you touched upon and have a look for any recent developments in those areas and be prepared to talk about it.
Some exit interviews might also include a pitch element — i.e. you receive a question towards the end of the vacation scheme and you have to pitch how you think the firm should respond. This is often a different way to show your communication skills and to show how you think. Just be prepared to explain your reasoning and make sure your answer is something that could realistically be implemented.
Break down each task you’ve worked on and critically reflect on what you did well, what you found tricky and any areas of development for you to work on in the future.
Think about what you’ve learnt about the firm which motivates you to join — avoid giving surface level answers and instead focus on things that you could only know from having been part of the firm for a few weeks.
What are the dos and don’ts of networking on a vac scheme?
Make sure you ask a lot of questions, remain friendly to everybody and involve other vac schemers whenever you can. For example, if you stand in a group of people, give others a chance to speak and ask their questions.
You shouldn’t talk over people or stay with the same group of people for the duration of the networking session. Use this as an opportunity to talk to as many people as you can and get your face and name known across the firm! It is also not a good idea to skip networking sessions if they are optional unless you have a legitimate reason that you have communicated to your firm.
Do — put yourself out there and speak to the networkers who are standing alone or with few people around them. Go armed with specific and interesting questions and take notes when you get an answer.
Don’t — stick in a bubble of your fellow vac schemers because the networking sessions are for you to find out more about the firm and its people.
Try and speak to as many people as possible but at the same time make sure you’re having proper conversations. There’s no point having lots of superficial chats and not having anything to take away from the conversation. Instead, take the opportunity to learn more about the culture of the firm and get a feel for the people, this is really useful in deciding if you think you’re the right fit for the firm and if you can see yourself there.
The three finally emphasised that what aspiring solicitors must remember is the vacation scheme is a two-way process and is equally about finding a firm that is the right fit for you, as you are for them.