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How to squeeze in a vac scheme during the GDL

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By Thomas Ajose on

Juggling study and a work placement at Mayer Brown in London and Paris was worth it for Thomas Ajose


Doing a vac scheme during the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is tough because it is such a demanding course. At the same time, it’s an amazing opportunity to impress and gain experience at a top law firm, and the whole reason I did the GDL was to become a lawyer. So it was absolutely the right thing to do.

You have to be energetic and organised to juggle everything. I submitted my dissertation during the second week of the scheme, so at the end of the day I was returning from Mayer Brown‘s office in the City to my friend’s flat in Bow in east London and doing some academic work. Sometimes you are zapped in the evenings during vac schemes, but I knew that I would only be working so intensely in a relatively short burst. Next week, I’ll be back in Nottingham doing revision lectures and in a month’s time the exams start.

You’re between two worlds as a vac-schemer. On one hand, you are going to work every day in your suit to an almost overwhelmingly impressive building where you are surrounded by high-powered lawyers. But outside of that you are sleeping on a couch and eating takeaway pizza. It’s important not to let that couch-surfing world encroach onto the professional world where you spend your days. And there is no reason that it should. After all, most people have access to an iron.

The biggest challenge, though, is being confident enough to put yourself forward. This is my second vac scheme. Maybe I let myself down a bit on the previous one — which was at another international law firm in the City — by being slightly afraid to put my head around lawyers’ doors and not speaking enough to people outside my immediate group. So over the last two weeks I have hopefully remedied that, going out of my way to speak to associates and partners who are working in practice areas which interest me.

During the first week I was in the corporate team and in the second week I was in the finance group. Neither area features prominently on the GDL, but that hasn’t proved a disadvantage. Several of the students on the vac scheme are in their final year of non-law degrees and they have been fine. Having said that, I have found that the method of thinking which I have picked up on the GDL has helped subtly in the way I approach tasks. There’s also the fact that having studied law you feel less intimidated by it.

The two weeks have been very international. One of the matters I have been assisting on has involved a client in Italy, while some of the other vac schemers have been working on an African deal. We also all spent one day of the scheme in Paris, visiting Mayer Brown’s office there.

It was very different from the glass and steel of London. The Paris office is in a large town house set around a court yard, and each associate has their own little room. It’s very French. The partners and associates gave us a talk about the multi-jurisdictional nature of the work they do and how they liaise with the UK office. Then we had a few hours to eat an amazing three course lunch, see the city and practice our French.

One of the best things is how sociable it has been — in addition to Paris the firm has taken us out for drinks on the first day and also to play ping pong. That has helped to create a relaxed atmosphere where you feel part of team, even if you are only there for a relatively short amount of time. The firm’s lawyers have also played a part in that, with the partners going out of their way to be approachable and the trainees and associates doing small things like inviting the vac schemers to grab lunch with them.

Certainly, the experience has been the best possible preparation for my training contract interview at the end of the scheme.

GDL student Thomas Ajose graduated last year from Nottingham University with a first in ancient history.

What was the highlight of your placement? Three Mayer Brown vac schemers explain their best bits in ten second Instagram clips

Karina Singh, Sheffield University graduate

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Findley Penn-Hughes, GDL student at BPP Law School

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Alex Watts, Warwick University graduate

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Mayer Brown firm profile [Legal Cheek]

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