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How to make your vacation scheme a success

updated on 23 June 2020

Here are LCN’s top 10 tips for making a great impression when on a vacation scheme and getting the most out of the experience – online or face-to-face.

It’s the time of year when firms should be opening their doors to aspiring lawyers keen to get a taste of what life in a legal environment is like. However, with social distancing measures still in place as a result of the coronavirus outbreak vacation schemes have either been moved online or cancelled. Now, more than ever, when it comes to exploring a legal career, it’s essential that you make the most of every opportunity. This can be easier said than done however, as competition for vacation schemes remains fierce and the move to virtual schemes offers a new challenge for aspiring lawyers.

Firms use vacation schemes increasingly as a recruitment vehicle which means that the schemes have become more structured, often with the training contract recruitment process forming part of the scheme. And, despite the move to online vacation schemes, several firms – including, Baker McKenzie, Linklaters and Slaughter and May – are continuing to recruit trainees through the virtual schemes.

If you have been lucky enough to secure a place, make sure you get the most out of it. Rather than approaching your vacation scheme as simply some work experience, you should use it as a real opportunity to explore not only the career, but also the firm. When reading the recruitment brochures, it may appear that all firms are similar. This is not the case – even firms of the same size and in the same location can be wildly different. The focus of, and culture within, each firm differs considerably and you need to find the right one for you. While this might be more difficult with a virtual scheme, lots of firms will be providing the same types of activity and experience as an in-person scheme so you will hopefully still be able to discern whether you feel comfortable. Think back to when you attended university open days; some universities were undoubtedly more appealing than others. And remember the scheme is very much a two-way process – you are looking at the firm just as much as it is looking at you.

Our top 10 tips for getting the most out of a vacation scheme are as follows:

1. Leave the application form/CV at the door/on your laptop

Don’t forget that you have fought off some tough competition to get your place, so you should feel confident that you have the necessary intellect and ability.

2. Look the part

This is still applicable even with online vacation schemes – it is important to look the part on webcam, as well as in person. Make sure you are dressed appropriately and that you have prepared a tidy space for any video calls. While many firms operate dress-down policies, they can vary considerably from firm to firm and it is worth checking with a firm about its dress code. If in doubt, wear a suit. Remember that you want to be noticed for your ability and not the way you are dressed. Also, you do not want to miss out on a trip to court or an important client meeting just because you look too casual. First impressions count for a lot and making the right impression – face-to-face and virtually – is vital.

3. Have the right attitude

As already mentioned, it is taken as a given that you have the intellectual ability to do the job. You have time during the scheme to create a good impression and the best way to do that is by having the right attitude. Friendly, enthusiastic, willing and keen students are a joy and with these attributes you will find that you not only get good work experience, but they will help to ensure that the people you are working with will champion your application for a training contract.

4. Ask questions

A vacation scheme may be your first (or only) chance to see first-hand what you are potentially signing up to as a future career, so you must seize the opportunity and find out as much as you can about the firm. This is perhaps even more important with virtual vacation schemes and will require an increased amount of effort on your part to seek out those with the answers. Working with an array of lawyers ranging from trainees to partners is your golden opportunity to quiz these people about their lives; why they chose the career, what keeps them at the firm, how they chose their practice area when qualifying and so on. Remember most vacation scheme supervisors are happy to share their room/webcam and are expecting to be grilled!

5. Social situations

Despite the move to online vacation schemes, there will undoubtedly be social Zoom events for you to get involved in. Take these opportunities as you would a face-to-face social event and consider how to present yourself in such scenarios. Your conduct at both online and face-to-face events will be reviewed to identify what you are like in social situations. A lawyer’s social skills are now considered to be very important – the days of the “backroom lawyer” are over! Even as a trainee you will be expected to attend client functions and/or deal with clients generally.

6. Read a quality newspaper

If you haven’t already got into the habit, now is the time to start. As well as practising as a lawyer, you are part of a business so you need to know how that business is run. The same applies to your clients. They will expect you to know about their business – how else are you going to be able to properly advise them? Firms look for commercial awareness, but how do you become commercially aware? Read the business pages – perhaps boring at first, but if you persevere they will start to build like stories, like getting a few episodes into an acclaimed but complex TV drama. LCN’s commercial news round-ups are also available weekly.

7. Have fun

Bizarre as it may sound, if you don’t enjoy the scheme then you really should be questioning whether the career and/or the firm is right for you.

8. Avoid trying to name drop

It may be great that you have got the scheme because your dad plays golf with the senior partner, but you can bore people with that information rather quickly! You want to be on the scheme on the basis of your own merits and not via a back-door route (even if this is the case). The other cardinal sin is constantly talking about what you did on another scheme with another firm. Enough said!

And after the scheme…

9. Analyse

Rather than returning home exhausted or falling straight into your next scheme, take some time to reflect on your experience. Did you enjoy it? If so, why did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected? It is really worthwhile asking yourself these questions as you must be absolutely certain if you later accept a training contract with that the firm that your decision is informed.

10. Keep in touch

Firms are human after all, so if you enjoyed your time on the vacation scheme, drop them an email saying so. Everyone loves flattery and sometimes it can get you everywhere! Plus, online networking is becoming increasingly important, particularly during the coronavirus era, so be sure to engage appropriately.

Finally, be self-aware, have fun and good luck!