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Vacation scheme diaries – preparation

Vacation scheme diaries – preparation

Harriet Iles


Another week closer to my vacation scheme, another week full of preparation! As I left off in my previous post, I had a couple of areas that I was hoping to gain insight into throughout the week – primarily, how I'm going to be assessed and how to best come across on a virtual scheme.
Attending a vacation scheme masterclass has been most invaluable to my preparation this week. It was extremely interactive as attendees could ask questions throughout and the presenter provided insight from their past experience as law firm graduate recruitment. From this, I am already much more confident as I feel that I have gained clarity on what to expect.
There are three main areas that you should prepare for prior to your vacation scheme – the firm, the people and yourself!
The firm

Researching the firm is something you did while crafting your application and preparing for your assessment day. You should already be aware of some of the firm’s recent major developments, but you need to keep this knowledge up to date. Are the firm two years into a three-year growth strategy – if so, how successful has this been so far? Are they currently advising on a high-profile deal, with sector-wide implications? Have they recently opened a new office, or launched a CSR scheme?

If you’re allocated a seat in a particular practice area, another great idea is to look through that practice area’s clients, work and people; making a note of some hot topics within that. As well, a broader commercial awareness should be maintained by keeping your finger on the pulse of the firm’s major business sectors before you commence your scheme. 
The people

You may have spoken to graduate recruitment on multiple occasions already, but it is important for you to expand your network. Your supervisor will likely be a senior office partner so finding their profiles in advance will be useful. If you’re interested in CSR, pro bono or social networks at the firm, such as ethnic minority or LGBTQ+ networks, knowing the names of the relevant staff members that you want to speak to would impress, while making your life easier. More broadly, researching someone’s professional background will help you to prepare talking points and questions about their career journey or current work if you meet them.

Preparing a few points regarding your unique or interesting qualities can make things so much easier when networking for the first time. For me, this is one of the best tips to help to avoid that feeling of impending doom during icebreaker exercises as you try to think about what to say for ‘tell us one interesting fact about you’. Try to think of about three or four facts about yourself or any achievements that you’re particularly proud of. Rather than preparing a script, the aim of preparing a couple of ideas is to provide a bit of confidence to help you come across well. Don’t try to avoid being natural during your scheme!
What happens on a vacation scheme?

Work on a vacation scheme will primarily mirror trainee tasks – bundling and researching, drafting letters and contracts, or attending client and team meetings. It is important here to ask for help where and when you need it, and to gain further clarification on anything you’re unsure of. Of course, they won’t assume you’re going to be an expert on anything you’re tasked with. A good idea is to get started on the task as soon as possible, and to check with your supervisor a bit later to ensure you’re going down the right path and aren’t missing any key points. There's nothing worse than getting halfway through a project to later find out that you've been going off on a tangent! 

Partner dinners, socials with other vac schemers, and CSR activities – the best advice for these kinds of events is to not overprepare and be yourself. During social events, I'm of the view that you should make a conscious effort to not bombard your fellow attendees with work-based questions, and keep the mood light. Ask open questions, share personal stories so they have a chance to really get to know you, give them your full attention and don’t try to multitask, be open and honest, and of course, listen. Just for peace of mind if you know you particularly struggle with this, you might want to create a list of general, informal questions that you could ask people – for example, what work they have on at the moment or even just their plans for the summer.

Of course, you will also be assessed during your vacation scheme, which this is one of the aspects that I am most concerned about preparing for. I have learned that you will primarily be assessed through the following methods:

  • Group exercises: the best tip would be to make sure to support one another in order to improve the overall quality of the presentation, rather than having a competitive mindset. Your ability to lead and handle responsibility, liaise and communicate effectively with others to overcome problems, and work under pressure to meet deadlines – all things that you would be doing as a lawyer – will be tested here. Group projects are also a great opportunity to present your organisation and planning ability.
  • Presentations and role-plays: the key here is being thorough and adapting your presentation according to who you are delivering to. If it’s a client, for example, simplifying or omitting legalese is an obvious first step. Another great tip is to rely on a considerable amount of research, using multiple sources, and make a clear note of these to make life easier for your assessors.
  • Exit interview: preparing for this is essentially the same as any legal interview. Make sure that you can summarise everything that you have enjoyed or taken away from the scheme as well as how this has reinforced your desire to be a lawyer at that firm. Use your diary to recall specific names or pieces of work that you think prove your ability to excel at the firm. Come prepared to answer further commercial awareness questions!

Creating a strong impression
First, know what you want and be proactive about getting it. If you want to meet people from specific departments, or get involved in CSR activities, don’t wait for graduate recruitment to offer these opportunities to you. You need to let them them know what you are seeking, and come prepared with an action plan – perhaps asking graduate recruitment whether so-and-so is the right person to contact, and whether you can set some time aside to contact them.
Second, be organised. This is probably the most obvious point, but write everything down – including your schedule. Plan each piece of work so you know how long it’s going to take you, and keep your supervisor updated as you progress. Ask for help.
Third, be accurate. This is the most important but most difficult aspect to prepare for. The best tip for accuracy is to check and double check every piece of work and every email you send, before you send it off, every time. Make sure that you’re cc’ing the right people in and addressing them with the right titles! With your work, make sure that you don’t rush it. If you feel pressed for time, just remember it’s quality over quantity.
Next steps 

  • Practise: learning through practise, rather than reading about something, is my preferred method of learning. Thankfully, there are many resources online that can help one to prepare for the various aspects of vacation schemes. I will personally be using Forage to practise trainee tasks, brushing up on my legal research skills using Westlaw and LexisNexis while trying to actively improve my leadership and communication skills during my employment and volunteering activities. 
  • Prepare points within this post: there is a lot of research to be done, particularly around the firm itself. 
  • Mental preparation: last, mental preparation and relaxation are important. To enter the vacation scheme in the best frame of mind, I will be trying to focus a reasonable amount of my energy on sports, enjoying the weather and socialising. Relentless preparation will likely lead to burn out before the scheme even starts!