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Virtually vacation schemes?

Virtually vacation schemes?

Juliet

21/05/2020

This week I was lucky enough to receive an email offering me a place on a virtual vacation scheme. Although I was amazed and delighted that a cancelled Easter scheme had been reinstated, albeit in virtual form, I was also wondering how it would work in practice. How can a week sitting in front of my laptop possibly substitute for a week at a leading law firm’s office?

Coincidentally, this is a question I have considered once before. Back when they were merely one fancy-looking tool in recruiters’ armouries, I wrote a blog on the ‘virtual internships’ being offered by a handful of law firms via a platform called InsideSherpa. At that time I concluded that these virtual internships were effectively online courses that bore little relation to actual internships, despite their engaging, informative and sleek designs.

Interestingly, among others, Clifford Chance, Pinsent Masons and White & Case have all announced that they will be using InsideSherpa for their virtual vacation schemes this summer. Clearly, their schemes will be very different from the publicly-accessible programs the site previously offered, not least in that they will involve real-time interaction with current employees – for example:

  • Pinsent Masons is assigning its virtual vac schemers trainee buddies;
  • White & Case has announced that its scheme will include live presentations and networking opportunities; and
  • Clifford Chance will be supplementing its three-day virtual program with a two-day in-person element in December.

Nonetheless, using a platform such as InsideSherpa, which was originally designed for people looking to pursue learning opportunities in their own time, seems to suggest a particular focus on the more pedagogical aspect of vacation schemes. That shift in focus is not confined to firms that have chosen this particular software. With many firms shortening their schemes, and focussing on presentations, training and Q&A sessions rather than on assigning vacation schemers to shadow lawyers in particular practice groups, it looks likely that an experience of lawyers’ day-to-day work will be particularly difficult to provide remotely.

Reassuringly, however, the need to deliver them remotely does not seem to have deterred firms from using vacation schemes as part of their recruitment strategies. Although Herbert Smith Freehills have bucked the trend by offering training contract interviews to all those selected for its summer vacation scheme, and then providing a virtual placement only to those who are successful, Bird & Bird, and Slaughter and May are among several firms that have already promised training contract interviews to all those who complete their virtual vacation schemes.

Like so many lockdown activities, a vacation scheme completed from a bedroom or kitchen table is unlikely to perfectly substitute the in-person version. However, I for one have nothing but respect for the HR teams designing these innovative-sounding schemes from bedrooms and kitchen tables of their own.