What to expect on a vacation scheme

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By Legal Cheek on

Legal Cheek explains…

After jumping through the hoops of written applications, aptitude tests, video interviews and assessment centres, your phone finally pings with that phone call or email you’ve been awaiting for months: “We are delighted to offer you a place on our 2024 [spring/summer] vacation scheme…” You’re over the moon and share the news excitedly, but a few hours later, you realise that you’ve actually now got to do the vacation scheme. Eeeeeeek!

With many of the Legal Cheek team having been in those very shoes, we’ve put together a brief guide covering what you can expect on a vacation scheme and how to get the most out of it.

Talks and presentations

On most vacation schemes, you will likely only get the chance to sit in one or two practice areas. So, in order to give participants a broader idea of the practice groups on offer, firms will often organise talks and presentations which feature lawyers from a range of different areas which you might otherwise not encounter during your time on the vac scheme. Some of these talks will also introduce you to the social clubs, D&I and pro bono initiatives that are on offer at the firm.

It’s always a good idea to go to these having done a little bit of prep, particularly if it’s a practice group you’re especially interested in. Have a look at the profiles of the speakers who are going to attend, and see if there’s any aspect of their career you’re interested in learning more about. There will usually be a Q&A session at the end of the talks, which gives you a good opportunity to ask any questions you might have.

If you’re after a more detailed conversation, don’t hesitate to shoot your shot and ask a speaker to go for a coffee chat. It’s probably best to ask this of a trainee or associate than a partner, in terms of availability, but they will most often be happy to oblige. If you have an exit interview, bringing up these instances is a good way of demonstrating your initiative and genuine interest in the firm.

Networking drinks and dinners

There’s likely to be a couple of these to give vac schemers the chance to meet trainees, associates and partners at the firm in a more relaxed setting. Often at the end of the day, you may find that your social battery is completely drained by this time and networking is the last thing on your mind. Try and take a few minutes for yourself before these events start, and it always helps to have some questions to hand that you can ask to get the conversation rolling. Even a simple “How’s your week been, what’ve you been working on today?” is a good way to start things off.

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This next point is probably obvious, but it must be said — don’t get carried away by the free-flowing drinks! It’s especially easy given you’re likely nervous and tired, but you are, at the end of the day, in a professional environment.

Fun activities

These are a good way of bonding with your fellow vac schemers, and sometimes, the firm’s trainees will also join based on their availability. You’ll likely go to a bowling alley or an arcade or something similar. It’s a good way to fill each other in on your experiences over the week(s), have a bit of a laugh and unwind.

Getting work

Your primary point of contact for this will likely be your supervisor or trainee buddy, so if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs, just ask to get more involved! Nine times out of ten, they will definitely have something on hand for you to get stuck into, or direct you to someone who does have something to give you.

It’s also worth pointing out that vacation schemes can differ quite significantly in terms of how they are structured. Some have its attendees sitting in allocated seats for the duration of the scheme, while others are more free-flowing, allowing candidates the choice of which areas they want to seek out work in. You will likely know this in advance of the scheme starting as graduate recruitment will be in touch with details, so you can be mentally prepared for what to expect.

When you’re being briefed on a task, it’s always a good idea to have a pen/paper or your laptop on hand to make some quick notes. You might think that you’ll remember it all, and that may well be the case — regardless, making those notes shows that you’re organised and proactive, and it never hurts to be perceived as such.

Assessed tasks

Depending on the structure of the vacation scheme, this might either be written or oral; individual or in a group setting; and have just one or multiple components. Perhaps the biggest thing is to make sure you leave enough time to complete this. It might be easy to get carried away with going for coffees, sitting in on calls and doing research for lawyers, but the assessed task is a crucial part of determining whether you convert your vac scheme to a training contract.

Once you get your assessed task, make sure you ask questions to clarify any doubts you might have. It’s important to know the structure you’re expected to follow, the level of detail you should go into and the topic areas to cover, and it’s not a bad thing to get these cleared up before you start. If anything, it only goes to show that you’re thinking carefully about your work.

Time management and communication are crucial. Think carefully before going for coffee with that associate or taking on a new piece of work so that you’re not left scrambling for time to complete the assessed task. It’s better to say “Thanks for giving me this, it’s really interesting and I’ll try my best to get it done by [insert deadline]. But just a heads up that I am also working on my assessed task and it might be that it takes longer than I expect”, than overcommitting and leaving a lawyer in the lurch at the end of the vac scheme.

Exit interview(s)

Some vac schemes have one or more exit interviews at their conclusion, and some don’t. If you do have one at the end of your vac scheme, a top tip would be to keep a record of all the work you did on the scheme, and some thoughts on what you enjoyed the most and what you found most challenging. Perhaps the night before your final day, take an hour or so to reflect on your time on the vac scheme. These are often super busy with each day packed to the brim, so it’s easy to forget what you might have done just a couple days ago.

Of course, the usual “why do you want to be a solicitor?” and “why [insert firm name]” are also likely questions, so have your responses to these primed. It’ll probably be easier at this stage, given you’ve just spent a week or more at the firm, doing the work of, and being around, solicitors. Also — if you’ve done, or will go on to do, more vacation schemes, be prepared to discuss these. How your experiences compared, why you chose these firms in particular and if you’ve got a decision back from them.

Word of warning

While applying for vacation schemes, it’s easy to get so caught up in that being the end goal that you might feel slightly overwhelmed by how much there is to do once you do actually make it onto the scheme. You might feel pressured by feeling like you have to constantly put your best foot forward or feel quite drained by the networking aspects of it if that isn’t something you enjoy. Your fellow vac schemers are in the same boat, so try using them as a sounding board if you’re worried about a certain task or just to have a bit of a laugh and decompress.

Good luck!

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