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Work placement schemes

updated on 04 March 2021

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

Gaining exposure to the day-to-day reality of working in a law firm is important for making an informed decision about your career. Work placements/vacation schemes are formal programmes designed by recruiters and partners to give you an idea of what a law firm is really like, while assessing 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 socialise. Most firms plan social events for placements from informal drinks to meals out or activities. It’s worth noting that you are always in competition with your fellow interns and recruiters are always assessing your abilities, but you should still be polite, friendly and a team player. You will still want to be on point when you’re socialising, so don’t over-indulge if there are drinks, for example.

Many schemes will involve opportunities to experience real work as part of one or more of the firm’s teams. This may be supplemented with other activities, for example, a mock client pitch or presentation, or a project you have to work on over the course of the placement.

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 major UK law firm Mills & Reeve, for example, describe the scheme as a “mini training contract”. Candidates will sit in four seats and review contracts, conduct research, attend training sessions and even sit-in on meetings and in some cases create first drafts of advice.

With the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, many law firms moved their vacation schemes online last year. Whether this year’s schemes will be face-to-face or virtual is dependent on the pandemic, the government guidelines and the firms themselves.

When to apply

Summer is the main placement season, but many firms also run schemes during the winter and spring. Firms that try to separate out non-law students may organise a dedicated non-law scheme 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-law student, you’ll need to apply by the end of October for most winter schemes.

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