Vacation schemes at law firms essentially function as internships, offering students the chance to spend part of a university holiday experiencing what it’s like to work at a commercial law firm. 

As with most internships, a vacation scheme is an essential stepping stone on the path to obtaining a graduate job, with many commercial law firms recruiting for training contract places directly from their vacation schemes. 

When to apply for a vacation scheme

Law students should apply for vacation schemes during their penultimate year at university.

Students from other degree subjects are better placed to apply for vacation schemes in the final year of their undergraduate degree. Application deadlines tend to occur in December/January.

Structure of a vacation scheme

Vacation schemes usually last for 2-4 weeks and you can expect to work a 9.00am-6.30pm day on average.

The first day or so of your vacation scheme will act as an introduction to the firm, with partners from different departments giving presentations on their area of work.

You will also be given mock tasks to complete, which will help you grasp the basics of working at a law firm.

Once you've settled in, you’ll spend time working in a particular department, though some firms will allow you to move to another halfway through the scheme.

Although law firms will do their best to take into account any areas of the firm you’d prefer to work in, be aware this might not always be possible.

Though you should be finished before 7pm most nights, the firm will likely hold evening networking events, which are an important way to get to know people at the firm.

At the end of your vacation scheme, most law firms will begin the formal assessment process for a training contract.

If you've impressed during your vacation scheme, you may be invited in for an interview and in some cases will be given a written exercise to complete.

5 things to know before your first day as a vacation scheme student

Use your buddy

Some firms will assign you a trainee lawyer as a “buddy” to offer you support during the vacation scheme. Before your first day, they’ll usually reach out to introduce themselves and answer any questions or concerns you might have about the weeks ahead.

Use them as a resource to find out information about what you can expect – after all, they were in your shoes not so very long ago!

Talk, talk, talk

On your first day, talk to as many people as possible. Not only will it help with your first-day butterflies, but doing so will help create a positive first impression.

Supervisors are more likely to give work to people who come to work with a smile on their face and who wish them a good morning.

Be consistently brilliant

Everyone on a vacation scheme does their best to impress senior members of the firm, but people often forget they need to make an equally positive impression on everyone else at the firm too, even the secretaries who are often extremely well-regarded and highly influential.

When deciding whether to offer you a training contract, the firm will speak to everyone you’ve worked with so it’s important to get on well with them all and not feel you can put less effort in when you think nobody important is looking.

It’s not a competition

With only a certain number of training contracts available, it can be tempting to treat the vacation scheme as a competition between yourself and the other students.

However, doing so is an unappealing trait which will reflect poorly on you. Instead, make the effort to get on with the other vacation schemers – after all, they could be your future co-workers!

Nothing wrong with saying no

Vacation schemes allow you to trial an employer as much as it allows the employer to trial you. Should you feel the firm isn’t for you, there’s nothing wrong with deciding not to pursue a training contract there.

Thankfully, every law firm is different and your experience will stand you in good stead when it comes to applying for training contracts.