Jane Drew, associate careers consultant

In this blog our associate careers consultant, Jane Drew, shares her top tips for converting a law firm vacation scheme into a training contract.

You’ve submitted umpteen online application forms, completed various psychometric tests and endured gruelling virtual assessment centres, before finally landing a much-coveted place on a vacation scheme.

Of course give yourself a gigantic pat on the back, but do not drop your guard. Your next big task is ensuring you make the most of this opportunity and convert the placement into a training contract offer. This is especially important with a growing number of law firms only offering training contracts to students straight off the back of their vacation schemes.

It goes without saying, you should do your homework before the scheme starts. That includes reading back over the research you did in preparation for your initial interview and keeping an eye on the legal press, including recent news stories related to the firm you are joining, as well as, swotting up on the basics of the department(s) you’ll be spending time in. Then whilst on the scheme I’d recommend the following top five tips.

  1. Manage your time and priorities carefully

From day one, there will be numerous demands on your time including ‘real work’ from your department, social/networking opportunities and graduate recruitment assessments.

They are all important. Diarise all meetings and deadlines, and keep daily ‘to-do’ lists. When given tasks by your department, ensure you are clear about what is precisely being asked of you and confirm the deadline. Especially, because until you find your feet, some tasks will inevitably take longer than you anticipated. If you find yourself with competing deadlines it’s vitally important to be honest. Be brave and ask your supervisor or trainee ‘buddy’ for advice on how best to manage your tasks. Regular communication is key here. For more tips on managing expectations check out this blog.

Remember, the socials and assessments are important too. They will give you an opportunity to get to know people around the firm, network with your fellow students and demonstrate your strengths and capabilities.

  1. Be inquisitive; ask questions – but be mindful of others’ time

Vacation schemes are brilliant opportunities for you to meet people and find out more about different firms and their cultures, enabling you to make better informed choices about whether a career in law and indeed joining a particular firm is the right path for you.

Be inquisitive but respectful of others’ time. If a partner or associate gives a talk about their practice area, for example, and you want to learn more, politely ask if it’s possible to book ten minutes in their diary for a call or virtual coffee. Or, if you’re keen to find out more about a certain initiative the firm is working on find out the best person to contact about it.

Make sure you target your questions to the appropriate person and prepare what you’d like to cover in advance of meeting them. This will ensure the time spent with each person is used effectively.

From experience, people are more than happy to answer questions if you’re polite, keen and enthusiastic. If someone gives you their time, then follow up with a thank you email.

  1. Do EVERYTHING to the very best of your ability

This might sound obvious but not everything will always go to plan and you may well make mistakes- you’re not expected to be perfect. Saying that, attention to detail is critical and that’s relevant to each and every task that you’re given.

I’ve known many summer placement students who cherry pick, ignoring what they perceive as the boring and mundane tasks, and hope nobody will notice. Trust me they will, and it will get fed back!

Impressing on a summer vacation scheme is about building trust, confidence and showing you are capable. If you do that basic task really well the associate or partner is more likely to invite you to be more involved in the next stage of a matter.

When work is delegated, make sure you take notes (if it’s a more complex task repeat it back to ensure you’ve understood it) and have a stab. It can be tempting, if you’re not feeling confident to immediately ask questions. Go away, read through your notes and work out what you do and don’t know. Then ask for help if you need to. It’s a fine balance between showing your initiative and not having to be spoon fed everything.

  1. Keep a learning log/journal from day one

If your work experience scheme is two or three weeks, and you’re switching departments, you’re likely to forget what you did at the start, if you don’t write it all down. What was the task, who was the client, what did you do, what did you learn (including any technical terms)? What can you do differently to do an even better job next time?

If you arranged one-to-one meetings with people around the firm keep a note of what you learnt from each of those conversations as well.

Keeping an accurate record of your experiences will really help during your training contract interview as you’ll be expected to draw on your vacation scheme experiences. Common questions asked during the interview include: What have you learnt about the firm/yourself? What work have you been involved with? What have you found the most challenging/the most enjoyable? It will also help you explain why you want to join the firm as a trainee solicitor, what you’ve learnt about the key skills necessary to succeed as a lawyer and how you can demonstrate them.

  1. Be authentic, be you.

It’s really hard when you know you are being tested on every task and at every social event to ‘just be yourself’. But it is really important that you are just that. If you’re trying too hard to impress and sell yourself it will come across that way. That said, if you are an introvert it’s definitely worth devising strategies to help overcome your reservist behaviours or risk being forgotten in favour of the more visible students.

When chatting to others in a more informal setting, find out about them by asking open questions starting with what, how, where or how. And remember, they don’t all have to be work-related.

And finally: Try and enjoy yourself! Even if you don’t manage to bag a training contract offer this time around, you’ll take so much away from the experience. It will help build your network, enhance your knowledge of what is expected of you as a trainee solicitor and how law firms works. All this knowledge will definitely help with future applications. Good luck!