COVID-19 and vacation schemes

Recruitment, internships and work placements in a number of sectors have been affected as a result of COVID-19 and the legal profession is no exception.

A number of firms such as Addleshaw Goddard, Baker McKenzie, Charles Russell Speechlys, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, Shoosmiths, Slaughter and May and White & Case have all postponed or cancelled 2020 vacation schemes and work placements in light of the current pandemic.

Some firms have moved their vacation schemes online. Firms recruiting for trainees via online vacation schemes include Bird & Bird, Clifford Chance, Pinsent Masons, Slaughter and May and Taylor Wessing.

If you've been affected by these changes check the firms website for more information and contact them if necessary to find out where you stand. Has your vacation scheme been pushed back to a later date or cancelled entirely?

Under normal circumstances not all students manage to secure vacation schemes and most firms are keen to stress that they'll take the current situation into account and still consider students for traineeships.

Firms often recruit trainees from their vacation scheme placements so it's important to impress. Discover how a vacation scheme can help you improve your skills and legal knowledge

What is a law vacation scheme?

Lasting anything between one week and a month, a vacation scheme will help you to improve your skills and legal knowledge and also give firms a chance to take a closer look at you. You'll meet partners, associates, solicitors and trainees and find out more about the structure of work and training, the culture of the firm, and what cases and transactions actually involve.

It's also a good opportunity to gain a better understanding of the skills and personal qualities that the firm is seeking and what they mean in practice.

The structure of schemes varies with each firm, but generally you'll be assigned a supervisor and a buddy and placed with two practice groups. You'll get the opportunity to work on live cases and transactions and you'll also get to shadow lawyers, sitting in on client meetings and observing them giving legal advice. There may also be workshops, seminars and presentations for you to attend and, depending on the size of the firm, some social events.

Will it help me get a training contract?

Some firms automatically treat work experience candidates as applicants for training contracts, while others ask students to apply separately.

If you can't get on a vacation scheme all is not lost. You could arrange some work shadowing, which is a much shorter stint of experience that will still provide a little bit of insight. Or you could use your time to do pro bono work, which will also show your commitment to a career in law. Alternatively, do some work experience in another sector or get a part-time job and, while this may not provide you with specific legal skills, it will build your soft skills, demonstrate your proactive, determined nature to recruiters and give you real life examples to use in interviews.

Which firms offer vacation schemes?

All firms listed below run vacation scheme or legal work experience placements but please be aware that in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic many firms have postponed or cancelled their spring/summer 2020 schemes.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you're interested in a particular firm check on their website to see if they run vacation schemes or legal placements.

What are the application deadlines?

Placements with the biggest firms are usually at Easter, Christmas or during the summer of law undergraduates' penultimate year (or the final year for non-law students). Many of the larger firms open for applications in the autumn, and may have pre-Christmas closing dates for Easter and summer vacation work. An increasing number of firms are also providing vacation schemes or work experience for first-year students.

Deadlines for summer legal placements tend to fall between January and April, several months ahead of training contract applications. However, the best advice is to research early, as increased competition for places means that vacation schemes may be brought forward. Firms may be quite specific about what sort of applications they want and when, such as final-year non-law students at Easter and penultimate-year law students in the summer.

There isn't a magic number in regard to placements - the more experience you get the better. If you're unsure what you want to do, complete vacation schemes in different-sized firms and in those that offer a variety of specialisms to help you decide which practice area is right for you. Make sure that the schemes you're applying to are worthwhile and will add something to your development - don't just do them to fill up your CV.

To see what's on offer, search law vacation schemes.

How do I apply?

A typical law firm may receive more than 2,000 applications, and because of this not all will wait until the deadline to shortlist applicants. Starting early and getting help with your application gives you the best chance.

Draw up a list of firms you'd like to apply to and schedule time to research the organisation. Most large and mid-sized firms have multi-stage application processes, which start with registration and an online application form. Smaller firms require a completed online application form or a CV accompanied by a cover letter.

Whatever documents you send, this is your opportunity to explain why you want the vacation scheme and what you'll be bringing to the firm. Get help and advice on writing your legal CV and cover letter.

You may also need to attend a one-to-one or panel interview where you could be asked questions including:

  • Why do you want to be a solicitor?
  • Who are our main competitors?
  • What stories in the business press have caught your eye?

You should prepare responses beforehand and ensure you have examples to draw upon. Take a look at the 9 questions you might be asked in a law interview.

Will I be paid?

Most firms pay something, even if it's just expenses. The Chambers Guide produces a vacation schemes comparison table, which shows how much firms pay, although not all firms choose to disclose this information. The amount that firms pay varies so check with them before applying.

For example, Allen & Overy pay vacation scheme students £450 per week, students earn £300 per week (in London) at Trowers & Hamlin and £500 per week at Kirkland & Ellis.

You should receive at least the National Minimum Wage in the UK if you're performing the role of a worker. This currently stands at £6.45 and £8.20 for 18 to 20 year olds and 21 to 24 year olds respectively. The most telling factors of a worker are set hours, duties or responsibilities. However, you should consider the arrangement as a whole in determining your right to pay - work experience should be for your benefit, not the employer's. If you're part of the commercial operation of a business, you're likely to be entitled to payment.

What makes a good application?

  • Know what's happening in the legal profession e.g. firm mergers, partner moves, new client panel wins and law firm revenues and profitability.
  • Allow plenty of time to research the firm, practice areas and high-profile cases. Focus on one application at a time and ask your university's careers services to review it before sending.
  • Be clear about why you want a law career. It's a challenging option and you need resilience and determination; demonstrate your passion and be confident that you are committed to this career.

How do I make the most of my placement?

  • Complete all tasks to the best of your ability and ensure the work that you submit is to a high standard. Going above and beyond the requirements will get you noticed for the right reasons, as will being proactive and asking for work if you have time on your hands.
  • Take every opportunity to get involved with practical, legal tasks and demonstrate a willingness and enthusiasm to contribute to the work of the departments that you're based in. Offer to help if you're able but keep a record of the work you've done and who you've done it for.
  • Use your buddy to find out what life at the firm is really like for a trainee and take every opportunity to get inside hints and tips from the employees that you spend time with. Embrace every opportunity to make contacts and speak to as many colleagues as possible. Also make sure you take part in any social events that you're invited to.

Find out more

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