These legal placements provide a vital insight into what it's like to work at a law firm. Firms often recruit trainees from their vacation schemes so don't pass up on these opportunities

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 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. Learn more about the skills you need to succeed in law.

The structure of law vacation 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. 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.

Remember, qualifying via the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations (SQE) means that you no longer have to complete a training contract. You'll still need to do two years qualifying work experience (QWE) but this can be completed in a number of ways. While it's expected that many firms will continue to run traditional training contracts, you can also qualify as a solicitor through working as a paralegal, completing a placement as part of a sandwich year or volunteering in a student law clinic.

Which firms offer vacation schemes?

All firms listed below run vacation schemes or legal work experience placements. When choosing a scheme, it's important to do your research to ensure it meets your needs. If you require more information about a programme before making an application, contact the firm directly.

This is just a selection and 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 virtual 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.

How do I apply?

Law firms receive hundreds of 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 on a vacation scheme?

Most firms pay something, even if it's just expenses. The amount that firms pay varies so check with them before applying.

For example, currently per week you will be paid:

  • Travers Smith - £750
  • Hogan Lovells - £500
  • Slaughter & May - £450
  • Clyde & Co - £400
  • Trowers & Hamlins - £400 (in London) £300 (Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester)
  • Baker McKenzie - £386.75.

You should receive at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in the UK if you're performing the role of a worker. From April 2023, this currently stands at:

  • £7.49 for 18 to 20 year olds
  • £10.18 for 21 to 22 year olds
  • Those aged 23 and over should receive the National Living Wage (NLW) of £10.42.

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 vacation scheme?

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.

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