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Vacation schemes

updated on 10 January 2024

Find out which firms offer vacation schemes (also known as work placements) using our Training contract search and keep on top of approaching deadlines on our Vacation scheme deadlines page. Visit our Vacation Scheme Insiders section to get a sense of different firms’ vacation schemes and office cultures.

Gaining exposure to the day-to-day reality of working in a law firm is essential for making an informed decision about your career.

Vacation schemes (also known as work placements) 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. It's an ideal opportunity to shine.

Wondering what recruiters really look for in candidates? Check out our Meet the Recruiter profiles. 

Typically, a student will be at a firm for two to three weeks and work in multiple departments, assisting qualified lawyers on cases. Firms will also run assessments and teamwork exercises, as well as social events. By the end of the scheme, both parties will know whether this is a relationship worth continuing.

It’s a good sign if you feel comfortable with the people you meet; you should never feel tempted to present them with a character that isn’t wholly your own.

What to expect on a vacation scheme

Vacation 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 network.

Most firms plan social events for placements from informal drinks to meals out or activities. It’s worth noting that recruiters will continuously be assessing your abilities, so make sure you’re polite, friendly and a team player.

Many schemes will involve the opportunity 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 throughout the placement. A former vacation schemer at Birketts LLP outlined some of the work and activities she got involved with while on the scheme, including a mock trial! She said it was “initially daunting but, ultimately, a rewarding experience”, plus “it encourages the vacation schemers to step outside their comfort zones and showcase initiative”.

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

Vacation schemes are usually rotational, in that you’ll probably spend your one to two weeks in two to four different departments. During that time, you’re likely to be engaged in various tasks. One former vacation schemer at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP said: “The most challenging part of the scheme was balancing competing obligations. It’s crucial to stick to reasonable deadlines and be realistic about how much work you’re able to take on”.

Candidates will sit in four seats and:

  • review contracts;
  • conduct research;
  • attend training sessions;
  • sit-in on meetings; and
  • create first drafts of advice (in some cases).

As with much of the working world, the covid-19 pandemic saw many law firms move their vacation schemes online during 2020 and 2021. Now, a return to face-to-face schemes seems to be the preference. However, this depends on the individual firm, as those that offer a hybrid working pattern may do the same with their vacation scheme to ensure continuity. You can check with each firm to see what format they’ve chosen for their schemes.

When to apply for a vacation scheme

Summer is the main placement season, but many firms also run schemes during the winter and spring. Firms that try to separate non-law students may organise a dedicated non-law scheme during the winter holiday. This ensures that all prospective trainees are on an equal playing field.

Read this article on winter vacation scheme deadlines and when to get your applications in. See this comprehensive list of vacation scheme deadlines and read LCN’s Vacation Scheme Insider interviews for insights into specific firms’ schemes.

Most 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. It’s best to apply early because many firms fill the places before the deadline or review applications in the order they were received.

If you’re a non-law student, you’ll need to apply for most winter schemes by the end of October.

Check out our Non-law student hub, sponsored by Shoosmiths

Find out which firms offer vacation schemes by using our Training contract search and check approaching deadlines on our Vacation scheme deadlines page.