Back to blog

LCN Blogs

What you need to know about first year schemes

What you need to know about first year schemes

Joe Defries


After you’ve found your feet at university, you may start attending career events and really beginning to explore what a life as a lawyer may entail. As most students lack legal work experience prior to university, the environment of a commercial law firm may feel unfamiliar and inaccessible. Unlike other degrees, law students are notoriously career-driven and focused from an early stage - it’s worth being aware of this if you don’t want to miss opportunities. In this article I’ll discuss the things you can get involved with on a first-year scheme, which firms offer them and how the application process works. 

What actually happens on a first year scheme? 

Although schemes vary from firm to firm in terms of length and how much exposure you’ll get to real work, all first year schemes are a great way to learn about commercial law. Throughout the few days in the office you’ll probably get the chance to complete research tasks, participate in mock client pitches and gaining a deeper insight into why that firm stands out from its competitors. First year schemes are likely to have a relaxed feel about them, as you won’t be competing for a training contract. This work experience will be a fantastic way for you to build rapport with the firm and extend your network with other students who share an interest in that firm. You may even gain a mentor from the scheme who you can contact for advice during the year who may have come from a similar background or university to you. 

Which firms offer first year schemes?

The number of firms which offer legal work experience to first years is considerably lower than the number who offer it to second years. Magic circle law firms, notably Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, offer brilliant first year schemes which will really elevate your understanding of what a career in commercial law looks like. The Clifford Chance SPARK scheme is unique in that you have the opportunity to gain a training contract off the back of the scheme if you perform exceptionally during the week. You also get to visit one of their foreign offices for one day! A&O First is another really impressive scheme which first years can get involved with as it is a year long programme which is designed to give you all the contacts, experience and information to decide whether you see yourself in this career. Some US firms also offer first year schemes, namely Shearman & Sterling and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. If you are a student who has been interested in US law firms in London either through your own research or visiting a presentation on campus, it would be worth considering these schemes as the insight you’ll gain will be invaluable. It’s not just certain US and Magic Circle law firms who offer the schemes, silver circle law firms such as Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst have work experience in place for eager first years. To find out whether a firm of interest offers a first-year scheme, look on the careers section of their website or ask firm representatives at law fairs. 

How do I apply and where can I get advice?

Most of the application processes for first year schemes are similar. You will have to enter all your personal details, academic grades and work experience into an online form and probably answer one or two questions about your motivations to join the firm or why commercial law is your chosen career path. After this, firms will assess whether they want to call you to an assessment centre where you will be interviewed. The interviews will vary between firms but usually consist of competency questions and a case study. Another part of the application process is the Watson Glaser psychometric test which is designed to test a candidates critical thinking skills. If your desired firm requires a Watson Glaser test, it is worth doing past papers to get to grips with timing and sort of question you can expect to be asked. Overall, the application process for first year schemes is less intense than vacation scheme applications, so I would advise you to take the opportunity to apply to firms which interest you. To get advice about a particular firm year scheme, make the most of careers dinner and law fairs by speaking to graduate recruitment. Also, reach out to students around your campus who have done the scheme which you’re applying for. This will help you learn about the application process and whether the scheme is worthwhile.