1) About Vacation Schemes
Vacation schemes are offered by many leading law firms in Britain. These schemes are aimed at recent and current law graduates. Vacation schemes typically run during the summer months and provide an excellent practical insight into the daily running of a law firm. They offer many young law students a doorway into the legal profession. Students who are competent and hard-working are well suited to such schemes as they can be quite challenging and demand dedication.
It is becoming increasingly popular for big firms to do the majority of their hiring from their vacation scheme alumni. Taking part in a vacation scheme will dramatically increase your chances of securing an interview with most firms.
This can provide you with invaluable practical experience, which gives you the chance to apply what you are learning in class. It can also give you the opportunity to suss out whether you enjoy working for a law firm, as well as make contacts that can be helpful later on. It can help them decide whether they would like to offer you the opportunity to do your Training Contract with them.
One other reason to do a vacation scheme, or even just apply for vacation schemes is to get practice doing online applications. This practice may be invaluable when you are trying to do the very similar process of applying for your Training Contract.
You should often also have the chance to earn a salary, up to about £500. However, don’t go in expecting a salary, some may just give you expenses or less. You want to do a vacation scheme for the experience, not the money.
Applications for training contracts at large and popular firms are often extremely competitive, participating in a vacation scheme with a firm looks excellent on such applications.
2) Vacation Scheme Application Forms
With most firms offering vac schemers a training contract interview, nailing your vacation scheme application form is a must.
Make sure you note down the deadlines for each firm you are applying to, and clear those that recruit on a rolling basis first. This is important because you need to manage your time so you do not end up writing 6 applications all in the same week!
Grammar & Spelling
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to ensure your application is clear of any spelling or grammatical errors. This is an indication of your attention to detail and it would not be surprising if recruiters chuck aside those with such mistakes. In addition, you do not want any errors to get in the way of something that you are trying to say.
Number of Applications
Most recruiters advise focussing on several good applications over churning out a dozen generic applications. What this means is that you should not simply ‘copy and paste’ your answers from one form to another (and forget to change the firm’s name!). If you take time to fill out a form to a high level of quality, it will be both noticed and appreciated.
Do your Research
Linking to the previous point, the less applications you make, the more time you can dedicate to researching your selected firm. This will enable you to know what they are looking for from an applicant, and give your application the strongest chance of succeeding.
Get a friend’s help
After incessant typing, your eyes might not pick out small errors within your form, therefore it would be good to get a friend or family member to go through your application and provide some feedback. This is why keeping to deadlines is important, so you leave yourself enough time to take feedback on board and improve your application.
Match your competencies
Nowadays, it is common for recruiters to select against criteria. Since firms have it clearly written on their website the kind of trainee they are looking for, match the competencies you’ve got with the skills they’re looking for. By guaranteeing your suitability for the position as much as possible, it will be harder for them to not interview you. You do not want to waste your time on an application that is unlikely to succeed when you could have been focussing on other applications.
Last but not least, always give evidence. If you are able to inject some individuality into your application to make it more noticeable, this can only help your case. Therefore, you should draw examples, if possible, from the different things you have done and then explain the skills you have obtained from that experience and why that will make you a perfect fit for the firm you are applying to.
3) Vacation Scheme Assessment Days
You got past the form, now you’re at a vacation scheme assessment day. How do you stand out and make sure you get the place?
Each firm will organise its Assessment Day slightly differently but, no matter what the format or structure, there are a number of things to bear in mind that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Most Assessment Days will usually include a group exercise, a face-to-face interview, aptitude tests, and a task, such as a presentation or a client interview, which is designed to test your legal knowledge and commercial awareness.
The most important piece of advice is to do some background research on the firm before the Assessment Day. The firm’s website is the best place to start, and it is crucial to make sure that you are familiar with the key practice areas of the firm, any recent high-profile cases the firm has worked on and the names of its major clients.
Whilst doing your research, you should also focus on what you think sets the firm apart from its competitors. This is very important, because you are likely to be asked during the Assessment Day why you have chosen that particular firm. Simply stating, for example, that you applied to that firm because you wanted to work in a large City law firm with international clients does not answer the question, as that is simply not specific enough, as it could apply to any number of different firms.
You should also ensure that you are keeping abreast of all the latest legal and commercial developments that may be particularly pertinent to that firm. It may be useful to have a number of particular news stories or recent legal developments up your sleeve that you have prepared in advance. This will demonstrate to the firm that you are both commercially aware and engaged with the legal world.
Work as a team
The Assessment Day will usually include a form of group exercise. This may be a scenario where you and the other candidates are divided into two teams and have to enter into negotiations with each other, or it may be where you are all working together to assist the same client.
The prospect of going up against the other candidates may seem daunting, and it can feel as though you are being pitted against each other to see who comes out on top. This is not, however, the aim of the game. The assessors are not looking to see how you perform against the other candidates. They are looking to see how you perform with the other candidates.
The important thing to remember is that you are being assessed on how you work as a team. The firm will not necessarily be looking for the loudest or most dominant person in the group. They will instead be focusing on how you respond to other people’s ideas and how you work with others to reach a solution.
It is crucial therefore that you show off your team-working skills. If one member of the group is being particularly quiet, try and include them in the conversation by asking their opinion on a particular point. Or if one of the other candidates makes a particularly good point, agree with them and try and expand upon their idea further.
Most Assessment Days will include a face-to-face interview with either an associate or partner. This provides an opportunity to talk about yourself and why you think you would be a good fit for that particular firm. This is likely to be the only part of the assessment day where you can prepare in advance for the types of questions you are likely to be asked.
Common questions that will crop up include why you want to work at that particular firm, and why you think that firm should hire you. This is where you can show off all the research you have done in advance. By citing key cases the firm has worked on or major clients the firm has worked with, and by articulating what you feel sets the firm apart from the crowd, you will impress.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer will usually ask if there is anything in particular that you want to know about the firm. This is yet another opportunity to show-off and it is a good idea to come prepared with a number of questions. It is important not to ask questions that can be answered by a quick look at the firm’s website. Instead, you want to ask questions that demonstrate that you have already done your research, and that you wish to know something a bit deeper.
For example, you could ask the interviewer about their own personal experience of the firm and why they believe it stands out from the crowd, or you could ask about the role and involvement of trainees on a particular case that the firm has worked on.
Legal test or task
Finally, the Assessment Day may include an interview or presentation that requires you to utilise your legal knowledge and commercial awareness. You may be asked to prepare something in advance or you may be given a task on the day.
This may feel like the most daunting aspect of the Assessment Day. However, the most important thing to remember is that they are not necessarily looking for the right answers. The firm will be assessing how you deal with tackling a legal problem, how you cope under the pressure and whether you can think on your feet.
If you are expected to give a presentation or carry out a mock client interview, the best advice is to stay calm. If you feel as though you cannot answer a particular question, don’t panic. By keeping yourself together, maintaining good eye contact and a steady tone, you will impress the firm even if you have not answered the question spot on. Remember that they are assessing you on how you will appear in front of clients and, therefore, your ability to stay calm under pressure is crucial.
4) Vacation Scheme Interview
It’s the final step, nail this and you’ll have a summer full of experience for your CV. Make sure you get it with these vacation scheme interview tips.
Long hours of completing applications, copious amounts of coffee and the dreaded emails telling you that you have been declined will all be worth it when you finally make it to the next stage of the process, the vacation scheme interviews. These interviews can be seen as quite difficult, as more and more law firms are recruiting future trainees straight from vacation schemes. They may be even more competitive than training contract interviews, as some aspiring solicitors can have two or three vacation scheme interviews for one summer. Take a look at the following tips and advice to help you succeed in that vacation scheme interview so you can spend two weeks at the law firm you have always wanted to work for.
Prepare to Succeed
It has been said time and time again, but it is of upmost importance to do your research on the firm. The interviewers want to know why you are there in front of them and why you want to work for the firm. They do not, however, want to get the impression that you have fired off countless numbers of vacation scheme applications, merely hoping for the best. The Human Resources team and solicitors interviewing you will want to know how much you know about what the firm does. Take time when doing your research. The firm’s website is the best place for information, however think of looking elsewhere like in the Law Society Gazette, or follow legal news in broadsheet newspapers. Another good place to find out what the law firm is doing is by looking on their Twitter. Law firms are increasingly using social media to market their brand. If you follow and interact with them on Twitter, you will be able to get up-to-date information on cases or developments within the law that the law firm has contributed to. The end result of this is demonstrating to the interviewers that you have potential, and that you would make a good addition to the firm as a future trainee.
Before the interview, make sure you re-read your CV and covering letter. In addition, if you had saved your application you can also go through your answers. The worst thing to happen at a vacation scheme interview is for someone to ask about one of your answers in your application and then for you to not know about it. Bring a copy of everything, so you can re-read things on the way to interview.
Dress to Impress
A vacation scheme interview is no fashion show, however, that does not mean that you shouldn’t dress appropriately. Wear a suit or dress, no matter the circumstance. It is no coincidence that the American legal drama ‘Suits’ is named after an item of clothing. Wearing something smart can put you in the right mindset and give you confidence. Therefore, absolutely no trainers or jeans. Make sure your shirt has been ironed, and your suit well pressed. Clean shiny shoes would not go amiss either. Something that people may not think about are accessories and coats. Wear a smart coat and do not go too heavy with the jewellery. A simple necklace and earrings are classic, big gold chains are not.
Regardless of whether this is your first ever interview or you are already a dab hand at it, you will probably be feeling nervous. If you do not like interviews, always the best thing you can do is to prepare. Get as much practice as possible! Ask you friends, family, university careers team or lecturers to interview you. The more you practice, the less nervous you will be. Also get people to ask you a variety of interesting questions, not just the standard “why law?” Yes they will most definitely ask you that question, however you do not want your answers to seem too rehearsed. Once you are in the interview, remember to be confident and to be yourself. No one wants to work with someone who is arrogant. Interviewers are looking for someone who will fit into the firm. Also smile, lawyers are not going bite! They may do in court, however the ones interviewing you want you to succeed, so keep calm and do the best you can do.
You need to make a good impression and you need to make them remember you. Interviewers will have seen a countless number of people who are all itching for a place on the vacation scheme. A great number of law firms are recruiting future trainees straight from the vacation scheme, so you need to stand out from the crowd. If you have a good bit of work experience or you are President of the Law Society, play on that. Tell them about it, elaborate and make sure you are passionate about what you are saying.
Have a good night’s sleep and plan your route to the interview. Get there early. As Shakespeare said it is “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Smile and be friendly to everyone; especially the receptionist as they may give feedback on you. Breathe and go in with a smile. Believe in yourself; you can do it. Good luck!
If you come from a background that is traditionally underrepresented in the legal industry and are struggling with vacation scheme applications, you should apply for the TSL Mentorship Scheme. Successful applicants will be assigned their own personal mentor to help with all aspects of training contract and vac scheme applications throughout the year.