‘My dream vac scheme wasn’t what I expected’

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By Legal Cheek on


Cold partners = red flag? asks TC hopeful

In the latest instalment of our Career Conundrums series, an aspiring solicitor questions whether a negative experience during a vacation scheme is enough to deter them from pursuing their “dream” firm.

“Hi Legal Cheek. I completed a vacation scheme at what I would say is my ‘dream’ firm and it didn’t exactly go how I expected. While the grad rec team were very friendly and the vast majority of sessions/tasks were really interesting, my interactions with the some of the lawyers (including partners) just seemed really cold. I spoke to several over the week and I got the impression they didn’t want to be there. Perhaps they were busy or I just caught them at bad time – who knows?! I did however speak to quite a few of the current trainees who all seemed relatively friendly. I am now questioning myself if this is really the firm for me? Should I not look into these interactions too much, or should I see them as red flag?”

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In my opinion you shouldn’t prescribe labels to things like law firms as your “dream place” to work. That sets high expectations that are most certainly going to be dashed when you actually get there.

Seasoned Lawyer

It’s normal.

Think about it from their perspective. You, as a vacs scheme student are nothing to them. You bring no value. Your questions and conversations are a drain on their precious time. They may never see you again. Even if, and it’s a big if, you get an offer for a TC, that’s years later, you may not get put in their team, and then it’s a big if you do well and qualify with them. They may have retired or left by then too.

This isn’t personal. Remember they are busy people, under a lot of pressure from themselves, the firm and other partners to meet billing targets, fulfil client requirements, bring in the net big matter. This is before you talk about personal issues.

So while it’s good you tried, don’t labour under the misapprehension that you are important to partners and any ill feeling was on you or caused by you. Of course there are some who like to invest time and help juniors, which is great, but that’s not the norm. Trainees try because they have to and they don’t have as much pressure. It’s brutal but just how law firms work.


I disagree, to an extent. Most partners will summon up the enthusiasm, unless they’re having a particularly intense day. That said, those partners may not reflect all the partners and I wouldn’t rank partners being nice among the top criteria when choosing a firm.

Oz Barrister

Appalling attitude. Junior’s should be encouraged and assisted. As a senior legal professional it’s part of your job to mentor younger practitioners. How do they treat their secretaries????


This is definitely a red flag. If they are like that to you as a vac schemer imagine what they be like to you as a trainee…

Barney the tree

I have to agree despite your downvotes.

Treating a clearly nervous guest like shit just because they have no value to you is not a sign of a good employer.


If you only spent a week there, chances are you only sat in one department? I think the culture varies massively depending on department. The two departments I sat in on my vac scheme felt like two different firms! You may sometimes get NQs who are more cold and uptight than partners, sometimes the opposite. Don’t read into it too much, but don’t ignore it. It might be the case that this experience means you go for the same firm but maybe choose not to sit in that department? If you have any other vac schemes coming up then that might be helpful for you to compare but either way it’s not conclusively indicative of what your experience at the firm will be like as a trainee and beyond. Ultimately, you’re always gonna have to take a risk and trust that the firm is what they say they are even if you had a positive experience. For what it’s worth, there there are very few people who have a 100% mind blowingly positive sunshine rainbow experience on their vac scheme, as it’s ultimately a high pressure workplace but stay friendly, stay curious and enthusiastic and you will be fine wherever you go!


Law firm partners are under a lot of pressure. Many of them are also, to put it kindly, not what you’d call “people people”. This is often particularly pronounced in “hard thinking” teams like Tax and Competition. And firms have an ultra hierarchical culture, with them at the top and you at the bottom.

Consequently many partners have no natural inclination, time or other incentive to pretend to be friendly (and tbh this is often even more excruciating than them being cold and aloof).

It’s no reflection on you or the particular firm*, it’s just City law.

*if the firm is Slaughters there are less extreme versions out there.


I did a vac scheme at slaughters a few years ago and the partners were generally friendly. It obviously varies but the partners in the department I sat in proactively organised chats and seemed interested. My experience may not have been the norm but it’s worth remembering that there are good people everywhere.


My vac scheme was a warm experience then when I got to my first seat it was like working behind enemy lines. Your experience is so dependent on team culture. Not all teams are made equal and all firms will have shite departments with no culture and filled to the brim with sociopaths.

Kirkland NQ

Legal Cheek keep refusing to publish my dilemma, so let me seek advice here.

It’s Lambo renewal time and the other day my model girlfriend mentioned getting a Urus, talking about how good they are, in particular the size of the boot and back seat, that they can hold more than two people. I refused – Lambos are two seats or nothing.

Then the other day she started leaving brochures for mansions in Surrey around the Chelsea townhouse. She even started talking about waiting lists for Harrow and Eton, and how long they are.

Is she hinting something?

Kirkland partner

Ha, Lambo branded, very cute. You’re just a young pup with a lot to learn. Maybe one day I’ll introduce you to Mansory and you can have a real G lambo.


You know for being a random troll Kirkland NQ sure knows a lot about what rich people do with their money


Concerning how many comments seem to insist this is normal. There’s an important difference between being cold and being busy. The latter can exist without the former, as all you need to do is politely communicate that you are in busy. There is no case where this comes off as cold.

Many moons ago I did vac schemes at a MC firm and an elite US firm, and though I could tell everyone was busy, everyone still made time for me. In both cases, this included partners approaching me to ask how I was getting on and to arrange (and follow up on) coffee chats with me. This applied to both transactional teams and advisory teams.

Maybe I just got lucky. But both firms I went to had reputations for being harsh (the US firm in particular). I would take this as a very significant indicator of what the general atmosphere at the firm is like.

Go with your gut instinct

It is a red flag but so many other law firms are like this too. But it’s not necessarily better at other firms where the lawyers pretend to be nice to your face and talk trash about you behind your back. Trainees can also be very competitive and the first to throw you under the bus. In this market, take what you can and know that post-qualification you can move around.


And when you do land your TC/job don’t be naive in the workplace. Your colleagues are NOT your friend until one of you has left the firm/dept. Do not share personal stories about your mistakes or your insecurities or money problems or your love life as this will get around the office (worse some may use them against you), nor should you gossip with the PA’s or talk trash about team members because this will get back to the partners.


Some partners are cold and you’re worried?

Sure this comment will get loads of thumbs down in this day and age of safe spaces from real life, but really…

Toughen up buttercup.

Good morning

Let this be a lesson for you. When you are a student and before you have any real work experience in a city law firm, there is a tendency to believe it is the greatest job on the planet. Look at LinkedIn – an endless stream of ridiculous posts humbly bragging about how they have bagged a TC and how life will be wonderful. Fast forward 2 years and no one feels the same way. This job is well paid and it’s well paid for a reason. It’s terrible most of the time. You need to understand that once you step foot in the door you are a cow and your time is milk. Nothing more.


I had a very similar experience albeit for the duration of my TC at a US firm which doesn’t offer vac schemes (but of course makes room for clients’ kids…).

With a handful of exceptions which usually came as the result of new joiners from superior firms, all I witnessed was complete apathy and disinterest. It wasn’t exactly that people were massive d***heads shouting at me or making unreasonable demands, more so a general lack of anything resembling a team, culture, goal or form of belonging. That goes without mentioning the fact that training in any meaningful sense of the word simply didn’t exist, to the extent that if you hadn’t paralegalled in some teams prior to your TC then it was a case of google and good luck. But then it would have been foolish to expect training from associates who in any given seat were gone about three months after your first week.

Needless to say that two years later I joined the ~50% of every trainee intake that leaves on qualification (not that you’d find this on the legalcheek front page) and have been much happier and much better skilled as a practitioner ever since.

I was nervous about moving in case every firm was the same, but I can now say from my own experience that you deserve better, and can find better, than what you were subject to on your VS.

Obligatory note that of course I was grateful for the TC and getting paid, this was all a few years ago and things could have changed etc etc.


Name or didn’t happen.

The Voice of Experience

“Dreams” by definition include “nightmares”.

You may have had a lucky escape.


This is the problem with law influencers… While I’m perfectly happy with my job, its not a ‘dream’ job in the same way i have a ‘dream’ car.

I’ve always found this dream firm concept so weird – you’re getting paid to work for someone doing legal (or “legal” if youre a trainee) work.


My vac scheme was a warm experience then when I got to my first seat it was like working behind enemy lines. Your experience is so dependent on team culture. Not all teams are made equal and all firms will have shite departments with no culture and filled to the brim with sociopaths.

Archibald O'Pomposity

You poor, sweet little soul. You just need validation. Well, you’ve come to the right place for a tummy-rub.

There, there. There, there. There, there.


I did a vacation scheme at a large private client firm that I was sure was right for me – then hated almost all of the two weeks there! I’m not training at a different firm and am much happier. You VS is a time where people have been told to “sell” the firm to you. If you’re not sold, don’t go!


Red flag they will treat you worse when you go there. People are always better on the way in

MC to Mid Size

There are firms out there with partners who genuinely care about your development, employees that are genuinely happy because of high quality work (interesting clients and real responsibilities) and a friendly culture. Give those a try via Open Day or VS and you’ll see the difference.

But if you want to train at a standard City firm then expect what you experienced.

Agree with the SM comment, sounds familiar.

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