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The Oracle

When should I apply for a vacation scheme?

updated on 26 September 2023

Dear Oracle

I’m a first-year student – what’s a vacation scheme and when should I apply?

The Oracle replies

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What’s a vacation scheme?

vacation scheme is a period of work experience at a law firm. They’re designed to offer students who are interested in a career in the legal profession a chance to see what life is like as a solicitor. The schemes often last between one to two weeks, depending on the firm, and take place during the spring, summer or winter.

You can find a list of Vacation scheme deadlines on LawCareers.Net. 

Vacation schemes are aimed at second-year law students and third-year non-law students, with many firms accepting applications from final-year law students too.

The vacation scheme often makes up part of a law firm’s training contract recruitment process. While some firms will recruit their trainees solely via the vacation scheme, others will recruit a mixture of vacation schemers and direct training contract applications. Vacation schemes are an important part of the recruitment process for most firms and should be applied to with strong, well-researched applications.

Read our Meet the Recruiter profiles for advice from law firm recruiters on putting together a stand-out application and find out about the type of work you’ll be involved in with our Vacation Scheme Insider reports.

What do vacation schemes consist of?

Vacation schemes differ between firms, but most will include some or all of the following:

  • work shadowing (ie, following and assisting a trainee solicitor, associate or partner with their day-to-day tasks);
  • group projects, such as research tasks and case studies – these are often presented to other vacation schemers and lawyers at the end of the scheme;
  • real legal tasks – for example, research, due diligence and reviewing documents;
  • skills workshops;
  • presentations from different departments and firm initiatives (eg, diversity and inclusion, mental health and pro bono); and
  • social events with other vacation schemers, trainees and lawyers from the firm.

Why should I apply?

As well as vacation schemes being an important part of the recruitment process for many firms, there are lots of other reasons it’s a good idea to complete one:

  • Gaining experience in a legal environment will help you to identify whether a career in law is for you.
  • Exposure to a specific firm, its practices and culture will help you to understand whether that particular firm is a good fit for you and whether you’re a good fit for them.
  • You’ll experience a variety of work and start building a network, including peers (ie, other vacation schemers) and legal professionals from the firm.
  • A vacation scheme could lead to you securing a training contract at the firm.
  • If you don’t secure a training contract off the back of a vacation scheme, it’s still a fantastic experience to add to your CV and talk about in other applications.
  • You’ll develop your commercial acumen throughout the scheme – a skill that all law firm recruiters want to see evidence of.

“I’m a law student, when should I apply?”

If you’re a law student, you should aim to complete your vacation scheme in the penultimate year of your law degree. For example, if you want to do a summer vacation scheme, you’ll need to start researching and making applications in the summer before your penultimate year of university and into the autumn term to try to secure a spot.

Read this LCN Says for our top 10 tips on vacation scheme applications.

With applications for the spring and summer schemes opening around October, second-year law students must get their applications in ahead of the firm’s deadlines, which are usually in January.

Some firms may review applications on a rolling basis, so it’s worth getting your application in well ahead of the actual deadline. It’s very tempting to put off submitting your application until the deadline day, but a last-minute application could come back to haunt you later down the line.

Read ‘Does it matter when I submit my training contract application?’ for more on this.

Remember, winter vacation schemes have a shorter application window – they often open in October and close in November.

“I’m a non-law student, when should I apply?”

If you’re a non-law student who’s interested in a legal career, aim to secure a vacation scheme in the final year of your degree. This will involve making applications in the summer before you start your final year and into the autumn term of your non-law degree. Some firms run winter vacation schemes that are designed specifically for non-law students, so make sure you conduct some research to find the best scheme, and firm, for you.

Not ready to make vacation scheme applications?

If you’re keen on a career in the legal profession but aren’t yet eligible to attend a vacation scheme, there are insight days and open days on offer that provide additional information on life at the firm. These are great opportunities to better understand a firm’s working practices, culture and expertise.

Find out about upcoming open days and insight schemes for 2023/24.

Some firms also run non-law-specific schemes or first-year schemes that offer an earlier initial insight into the firm. For example, Latham & Watkins’ first-year spring scheme is designed for first-year law students and penultimate year non-law students.

Find out more about firm open days in this blog post.

If you’re a non-law student who wants to make an application for such a scheme, you should start your research in the summer following your first year. If you’re a first-year law student, you’re likely already ahead of the game if you’re looking into these schemes so just make sure that you get your application in well ahead of the deadline.

Read ‘A first-year student’s guide to opportunities in law’ for more advice on how to get ahead.

These events are well worth attending if you’re considering a career as a solicitor. It’s important that when you make applications, you can identify what it is about the profession or a particular firm that appeals to you. This level of self-awareness and understanding won’t come from just reading a law firm’s brochure. The first-year schemes and open days are one of your first opportunities to learn more about life as a lawyer, so take advantage of them!

Looking for more? LawCareers.Net has so much content to support you on your legal journey:

Don’t want to miss a deadline? Sign up for a free MyLCN account to keep track of your shortlisted firms’ deadlines, add them to your favourite firms to receive reminder notifications as your deadlines near.