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Work placement schemes

updated on 04 September 2019

Find out which firms offer work placements (also known as vacation schemes) by using our Training contract search and keep track of approaching deadlines on our Work placement deadlines page. For first-hand accounts of what it's like to be part of a scheme, see our Vacation Scheme Insiders section.

If you're thinking about joining the legal profession, you need to consider what it's actually like to work as a solicitor. Many law firms open their doors to prospective trainees during university vacation periods in the form of work placement schemes. These are formal, structured programmes of experience designed by recruiters and partners. The schemes give you an idea of what the inside of a law firm looks like and give recruiters a chance to assess your suitability for a training contract.

What to expect on a work placement scheme

Work placement schemes are an incredibly competitive part of the recruitment process. Many firms will offer you an automatic training contract interview during your placement. As well as work and interviews, there are always opportunities to let your hair down. Most firms plan social events for placements from informal drinks to meals out or bowling tournaments. It’s worth noting that you are always in competition with your fellow interns, and recruiters are always assessing your abilities. This will even happen when you’re socialising, so exercise a little self-control.

John Turner attended a summer work placement scheme at national firm Mills & Reeve. “The work I did was real work,” he recalls. “You’ll get a flavour of whether law is a career for you. I actually got the opportunity to draft a letter to a client. It wasn’t on a major deal, but it was something the client needed to know. Popping it in an envelope, I felt I’d played a part.”

Work placement schemes are usually rotational, in that you’ll probably spend your two weeks in two to four different departments. During that time, you’re likely to be engaged in a variety of tasks. Interns at corporate US firm Skadden, for example, are asked to do background reading into specific legal practices, attend training presentations and even partake in conference calls or meetings with lawyers from other firms.

When to apply

Summer is the main placement season, but many firms also operate schemes during the spring holiday. Firms that try to separate out non-law students do so by hosting a scheme dedicated to them during the winter holiday period. This ensures that all prospective trainees are on an equal playing field. The majority of application deadlines for summer and spring schemes tend to be between the end of January and the end of February, with many firms also sharing a deadline at the end of March, but it’s best to apply early. If you’re a non-lawyer, you’ll need to apply by the end of October for most winter schemes.

John was offered a training contract interview on the grounds of his performance during his placement. Explaining how important the work placement scheme is, John says: “The application process for training contracts is long and hard. The thing about a two-week placement is that you can get a flavour of what a firm is like. It was absolutely great. I’m too cynical to wax lyrical about something I don’t believe in. I know it’s good.”

Learn more about firms’ vacation schemes from the very people who have experienced them in our Vacation Scheme Insiders and Meet the Lawyer sections.