The elusive vacation scheme. Considered by many to be half the battle in securing that all important training contract, but is it really necessary? And how do you go about getting one?
This post, based largely on my own experience, will hopefully de-mystify some of the questions surrounding vacation scheme applications and give a few tips on how to get one and how to make the most of it when you do!
Once you’ve picked up all your newfound tips and tricks to securing a vacation scheme, take a look at our Vacation Scheme Deadlines calendar…See Vacation Scheme Deadlines
First of all, vacation schemes are not the be all and end all, so don’t worry too much if you haven’t secure one so far, but they are helpful.
A survey run by the website Lawyer 2B a few years ago showed that most large city law firms recruit over 50% of their trainees from previous vacation scheme participants. Some, like Mishcon de Reya, even hire exclusively from the schemes.
The week or two that you spend there allows the firm to get to know you better, know how you work and whether you would be a good fit for them. It really is unsurprising that firms are more inclined to hire from this group, as opposed to a candidate met at an assessment centre which, let’s face it, does not always bring out the best in people.
What’s more is that it gives you a chance to meet the firm. Never underestimate the significance of a good working environment and culture and it is important to recognise that not all firms will be the right fit for you. Doing a vacation scheme, particularly if you’re lucky enough to do more than one, will give you a really good idea of whether you can see yourself working there in the future.
Most firms have the same (or similar) application and assessment process for their vacation schemes as for their training contracts. Securing a place on the scheme will usually automatically qualify you for a training contract interview. This means that your vacation scheme applications need to be just as good as if you were to apply directly for a training contract. In many cases, the vacation schemes may even be more competitive, so its instrumental that you really stand out.
Every firm has a different application format but my experience was fairly typical in that it required a written application, verbal reasoning test and assessment centre if you passed the initial stages. Additionally, it is incredibly important to apply early. Many firms recruit on a rolling basis, so if you leave your vacation scheme applications to the last minute, then it may be that all the spaces have been filled!
I found that the best way to produce strong written vacation scheme applications is to really do your research. It sounds obvious, but avoid copy/paste, one size fits all answers; firms are eager to know why you want to work for them and it is important to be able to give firm specific answers.
If you’re asked to talk about a news story that interests you, make sure you relate it back to the firm you’re applying to and think about how it will affect their business. Make sure that you are aware of their key practice areas, for example – if they are a firm who specialise in medical negligence or personal injury, maybe don’t write about real estate.
Also, when explaining why you want to work for them, try to find examples of their recent work. Most firms’ websites will give case studies of notable cases, so try to bring these into your answer and explain why you find them interesting. It will show that you’ve really thought about why it’s the place for you and it will force you to consider it too; if you find the work interesting then you will most likely enjoy working there.
Most written vacation scheme applications will additionally ask you for examples of leadership and teamwork skills or extracurricular achievements. It’s easy to neglect these elements simply because they are easier to write about. If you’re anything like me, then you probably have lots of extracurricular activities from school and uni to fill these boxes – but if you feel you might be a little lacking, it could be worth participating in some volunteering or joining a uni society. It really does do that little bit more to flesh out your vacation scheme applications.
Similarly, for assessment centres and interviews, preparation is key.
While you can’t predict the exact scenarios or questions that will come up, make sure you know what the firms key practice areas are, how they operate and what their plans are for the future, as it’s likely that questions will be drawn from these areas.
Every firm will have their own assessment centre activities, so its very difficult to generalise, but my assessment centre involved a written task and a mock negotiation exercise. The written task is difficult to prepare for, but they will usually be looking to test your communication skills and commercial awareness rather than any legal knowledge. I would recommend trying to be as clued up as possible on both current affairs and how a business functions – use TLP’s Legal Hot Topics 2018 page as a start! For example, I read up on corporation tax and a little about shares and trading as they were areas I felt less confident in regarding businesses and commercial transactions.
The negotiation exercise is an easier place to shine as you can show more of your personality. On my assessment centre, I was assigned a partner and between us we were given a set of goals to achieve while negotiating a rental agreement. The pairing opposite us were given a different set of aims. We then had to negotiate our way to a contract covering key areas, including cost and tenancy length among others.
Now, I had heard horror stories about these types of exercises. Some applicants do go in, all guns blazing, refusing to budge on issues, even shouting. I have since been told by some of those selecting candidates that this is not what they look for. While it is important to be firm in arguing for your set aims, it is paramount that you remain measured and sensible, and don’t set out to embarrass or attack the other side, as this will make you look bad. Sometimes in the world of work, walking away from a deal is better than signing a bad one, so don’t be afraid to mention that too.
The most important thing to do in a negotiation exercise is to consider your priorities and be willing to compromise on issues which are less fundamental to your goals. Being able to do this successfully will show a discerning mind and a flexible personality, both admirable qualities in a lawyer.
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Okay, so you’ve made it. You’ve fought off the competition and you’ve secured your place on the all important vacation scheme, but this is by no means a guarantee of a job. While the scheme presents a myriad of opportunities to impress, it also carries with it some risk. If you don’t put the effort in during your time there, come your training contract interview, you’ll be hindered by bad feedback and it’s very difficult to come back from that. So here are my top tips for making the most out of your scheme:
Written by Hansy Shore, GDL student at the University of Law
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