Obtaining a range of different work experience is a fundamental part of one’s preparation for a training contract. There are several ways of doing this but in most cases, it will commonly take on the form of a vacation scheme. This is a period of unpaid work, often for one or two weeks, shadowing a solicitor.
With that in mind, this article aims to help students prepare by exploring five things I have learnt since partaking in mine.
It is often the case that a student will have some idea of what area of law they may want to work in following undergraduate studies be that contract law, family law or something entirely different.
For me, it was criminal law which particularly peaked my interests in the second year of my studies. However, what I quickly found out is that remaining open-minded and remembering to consider other options is crucial.
As I rotated around the different disciplines which made up my work experience, I quickly realised that there were other areas of law which I had not even considered. Furthermore, if you cannot secure a training contract at a firm specialising in the area you have set your heart on then you are faced with a dilemma.
Of course, it will still be disappointing and may lead you to have a serious think about your future but it is less likely to be detrimental if you have kept your options open throughout the process.
The more areas of law you explore, the more likely you are to find the one which is right for you; it may even be one which you did not even get acquainted with at university.
Tip #2: The Number of Training Contract Applications
It is widely known that the number of applicants each year having completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC), far exceeds the number of training contracts on offer.
Many will therefore find themselves in a position where having completed all academic stages of the qualification process, they fall at the final hurdle, unable to secure a training contract.
Given these unfavourable statistics there is a growing tendency among students to apply for a significantly high number of training contracts to maximise your chances. However, what I have learnt is that this can be a counterproductive and largely unwise strategy.
Many training contract providers will now ask you to list what other firms you have applied to and how far in the application process you have progressed thus far. The purpose of this is to eliminate candidates who are applying to a high number of firms without any clear reason as to why they have selected said firms.
This is not a hard and fast rule and firms do appreciate the high level of competition. However, it is far better to apply to a handful of firms that you have researched in depth and can put in a strong application.
One big takeaway from my vacation scheme is that it is the ideal opportunity to ask questions, which should not be missed. This could be something as simple as asking for clarification if you do not understand an allocated task or you might just want more information on something that peaks your interest.
By actively showing an interest and engaging with the staff; it will give them the positive impression that you are truly drawn to a potential career with them and are not just undertaking the placement to enhance your CV.
As with anything you do in life, not every single aspect will be riveting or stimulating. There will likely be areas of your vacation scheme which you do not find particularly interesting and struggle to engage with.
This could be because you don’t understand it or simply because the area of law in question is not one which really appeals to you as a person. I, for example, found company law in relation to acquisitions and mergers particularly hard to deal with.
I realised to be of the upmost importance is that even when faced with a less than interesting task you cannot allow yourself to appear unenthusiastic or jaded.
Law firms know that you will ultimately only practice in one department and only cover an additional three in your training contract; so a firm with a myriad of specialities does not expect each and every one to invigorate all trainees.
However, by refraining from complaints and getting on with the task as best you can you are showing an adaptable attitude which law firms actively seek out.
Tip #5: Use Your Initiative
As I found out first-hand on one of my placements, firms will go through both busy and quiet periods with varying caseloads. If you are not careful you will therefore encounter a situation where you are sat in an office with very little work to do and spend the time clock watching so to speak.
The staff will be keen to help you but with their own work to do they cannot bend over backwards to find you something to do.
What will make a substantial difference is if you actively seek something to do and ask if there’s any way you can help. Even the most mundane tasks such as filing or photocopying will be greatly appreciated and lighten the solicitor’s workload.
They will then return the favour by taking additional time out of their busy schedule to answer questions or just simply give advice.
For more information on vacation schemes and training contracts, take a look at these guides:
Do you want a training contract or a vacation scheme? Our Training Contract and Vacation Scheme Conference, in partnership with BPP University Law School, will provide you with all the knowledge and skills you need to ace your applications and impress every interviewer – for only £5!