B&W head & shoulder shot of Sajeed Jamal in a suit & tie

Sajeed Jamal

I’m sure you’ve heard tonnes of people say that during virtual vacation schemes you must step outside your comfort zone, network and present the best version of yourself. But all of this is easier said than done, particularly if you haven’t previously worked in a commercial law firm or office environment.

Below I share ten top tips, pulled together from my own experiences of completing vacation schemes and adapted for the virtual version. I hope following these will enable you to convert your scheme(s) into that coveted training contract.

  1. Build relationships. The more people you virtually connect with and speak to the more positive feedback people can provide. However, when doing this, it’s imperative to use common sense. Pick and choose the right moment to connect and speak to that rainmaker or high-flying associate. Back in the day, I used to do this in the morning as people would have time for a short natter before starting their work. Also, when speaking to partners or senior associates have appropriate questions to ask so not to waste their time.


  1. Be punctual. I cannot over emphasise how bad it looks to start your day late or to log into a virtual meeting after everyone else has already joined. I’d encourage you to log on and start your working day slightly ahead of the official start time. This way you’re prepared in advance and raring to go, instead of faffing around, figuring out the appropriate virtual background or how to use the firm’s IT system. It’s also worth asking your supervisor what time they usually start work and then try to log in slightly earlier to sort out IT issues, or simply to keep up to date with the morning’s business news. Early morning is also a great time for virtual networking.


  1. Clarify instructions. Be sure to clarify and listen to what your supervisor wants you to do and how they want it done. Trust me, you don’t want to be that vacation scheme student pulling your hair out at home trying to figure out what your supervisor said and then risk producing sub-standard work. Rather, you should aim to end the conversation with everything totally clear in your head and raring to go. It’s also good practice to clarify with your supervisor or fee earner, how they want the work done, in what format and manner, i.e., do they need it in the firm’s in-house style, with bullet points, large headings etc. Once you’ve completed your task, if possible, ask for feedback to understand how your work ties in with the bigger picture of the transaction, project or trial. This shows enthusiasm and will aid your understanding of that area of law.


  1. Be positive when taking on research. At some time during your vacation scheme, you’ll get a research task. When doing this, always remember to provide a source list and relevant links to the person who delegated the work to you as this will enable them to fact check / verify your findings. I appreciate this very sounds basic, but you’ll be surprised how rarely this is done. And where you’ve used PLC or LexisNexis your supervisor can also see if what you’ve used is up to date.  It’s also worth noting, when researching legislation you don’t just copy the statute or case word-for-word, rather provide your own commentary / analysis and state how it applies to the transaction, trial or project.


  1. Send capacity e-mails with caution. Doing so may seem like you’re using your initiative but in truth it means you risk losing control of deadlines. Your supervisor, the team you are sat in and indeed graduate recruitment will have allocated work for you during your time at the firm. It’s far better you assist your supervisor and produce top quality work for them and on time, rather than having work coming out of your ears and letting fee earners down by telling them you don’t have time to do their work after all.


  1. Look engaged during client meetings. Don’t just sit and stare into space. Watch your body language, listen attentively and take notes. This way you’ll come across engaged and hopefully log-off having learnt something new. After the meeting, offer to write up the minutes or let your fee earner know you’ve taken notes and send these to them before they ask so they can used them if needed. Also, ask your fee earner about the bigger picture to show initiative and aid your understanding.


  1. Keep a diary / log. I created a simple table and listed what I did, whom I did it for, time spent on each task and what the final outcome was. This will act as a form of reference for you as you’re likely to forget what you did and learnt during your scheme. Also, at the end of the scheme I’d recommend sending the diary to your supervisor. They’ll then have a comprehensive overview of what you did, which will make it easier for them to feedback to graduate recruitment. In essence, you’ve made their life easier, saving them valuable time trawling through their emails figuring out what work they gave you and what exactly you did during your virtual week with them.


  1. Pay attention to detail. If there’s just one takeaway from my blog that you’ll remember, make it this tip. Treat each piece of work like it’s going to a key client or senior partner. Therefore, it mustn’t be blighted by typos or grammatical errors. Attention to detail as you know is a key consideration for graduate recruitment during your virtual scheme. Silly mistakes can therefore make or break your chances of bagging that training contract offer.


  1. Focus on yourself. Don’t over-think and compare yourself to other students. Each virtual vacation scheme is about you and only you. Each student will be placed with different teams and supervisors. There are also lot of variables outside of your control during the scheme. Therefore, focus on the elements within your control, which is the work given to you by your fee earner or supervisor. Likewise, it’s not expected that you’re going to become besties with everyone on the scheme. That said, during virtual group tasks, never be rude, respect other people’s opinions, let them speak and always portray yourself as a calm and measured professional. Working in a commercial law firm means working collaboratively with diverse individuals from different backgrounds and varying personalities. You don’t want to be seen as the person who is difficult to work with, or who speaks for the sake of it. Here it’s quality over quantity.


  1. Be authentic and enjoy the experience. Far too often students are so desperate to impress they hinder their own performance by putting undue pressure on themselves. This leads to not performing to the best of their ability. I find when I’m relaxed, I think more clearly and perform at a more optimum level. Related to this, you’ll find that rather than simply being themselves, lots of students clumsily emulate others around them. The risk of over-doing it is coming across as fake, which is not a great attribute. Indeed, graduate recruitment and the fee earners are likely to spot such behaviour straight away. Therefore, just be yourself because you’ve got this.


Sajeed Jamal, is a third-seat trainee solicitor at international law firm, Trowers & Hamlins LLP.