Vacation schemes: the Addleshaw Goddard guide

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If you want to get your foot in the door at a firm, a vacation scheme is often your best shot – you’ll get an insight into the day-to-day of a lawyer while learning what kind of firm and practice areas work best for you.

If you’re only just embarking on your legal career, your timing couldn’t be better. Until relatively recently, you’d have been looking at doing your legal work experience completely remotely. And no matter how comfortable you are with your camera on, a virtual vac scheme just doesn’t cut the mustard like an in-person one. Aside from demonstrating your potential to an employer, getting into the office is a surefire way to get the most of the on-the-go training that surrounds you – whether it’s asking the qualified associate beside you a quick question, crossing paths with a really interesting partner at the coffee machine, or simply having the solidarity of your fellow vac-schemers for the ‘stupid’ questions at lunchtime (all together: there’s no such thing).

At Addleshaw Goddard, 2022 marked the first re-introduction of in-person vacation schemes since the start of the pandemic. Everything – from the assessment centres and open days to the scheme itself – was in-person. Yet the benefits of getting into the office wasn’t the only thing to emerge from the pandemic. Since offices re-opened, digital software is still central to the in-person experience, and vac schemers at Addleshaw Goddard have access to faster, more straightforward means of communication than was typically available pre-pandemic. As is often the case, it seems, the answer lies in blending the old with the new.

Vac scheming after vaccine-ing

One of the most useful things about a vacation scheme is the opportunity to get to know a firm.After two years of restrictions, the Early Careers team at Addleshaw Goddard have been able to meet candidates face-to-face at every stage of the process, something that couldn’t come soon enough for senior early careers advisor Fiona Powell: “That face-to-face interaction is invaluable,” Powell explains, “the opportunity for applicants to come to the office and meet people, before potentially joining, is something we hope all our future trainees experience.” In fact, it’s a process that provides candidates with the room to gain “firsthand experience of what it’s really like to work at a commercial firm."

“What stood out was that it made sense for me to be answering these questions.”

There’s no getting past it, the opportunity for first-hand experience of life at a firm is the very essence of a vacation scheme. Yet stepping into the office isn’t the only way to get a feel for what it might be like. For  , a current trainee who completed a virtual scheme in 2021, the questions the firm asked during its remote application process provided an indication, and they helped El-Assaad to decide that it was the right fit: “It wasn’t a case of just getting any training contract. What stood out was that it made sense for me to be answering these questions” El-Assaad recalled.

David Hunter, a paralegal at the firm who completed the Leeds in-person scheme in summer 2022, was quick to highlight that his in-person scheme was “packed with sessions,” many of which were added post-pandemic. Particularly well-received was the chance to talk to current trainees at the firm about their experiences, with vac schemers appreciating the “honest, open” insight to the firm.For El-Assaad, meeting the trainees was a great opportunity “to speak to someone who was in the shoes we were about to fill.” Of course, candidates begin a vac scheme with the intention of securing a training contract too, so talking to trainees, as El-Assaad continued, gives you the chance to get to know “who you’ll be turning to for support.” As Hunter put it: “You wonder going into these things if it is going to be a controlled environment, but they were discussing both the highs and the lows of the career. I came away feeling like trainees get a lot of responsibility, with a lot of trust placed in them.”

While online, the digital vacation scheme’s main social event was the virtual escape room: a fittingly(?) lawless prison-break scenario, according to El-Assaad. There were also plenty of opportunities to connect with trainees and other vac schemers during virtual lunch sessions, but the success of this “depends on how you are you are as a person.” El-Assaad told us, “you have to be more resilient when it’s virtual.” Hunter, too, imagined that communication would have been more difficult without the in-person connection. This summer, the Leeds cohort took part in a pizza-making session something that left everyone “laughing and having fun” despite the fact that they were “basically failing at making pizza” Hunter tells us.

Virtually possible

As a general rule, Microsoft Teams and access to the virtual work platform was used regularly across the firm, something that was a “needs must situation at the time,” according to Fiona Powell. Yet it created opportunities that vac schemers still benefit from. Whether online or in-person, dropping a message to a lawyer at the firm has never been easier. That’s not to say that there isn’t room to walk up to someone’s desk and ask a question for those in the office either: “They want you to succeed and do well, and that was clear,” Hunter explained. Even though El-Assaad’s experience took place online, it was always acceptable to drop someone a line, as “they would be on hand all the time.” If the success of a vac scheme is measured on how well it readies a candidate for a training contract at a firm, there was little difference between on and offline schemes, with similar rates of remote and in-person candidates securing training contracts on completion.

Vacation schemes are generally very short introductions to life at a firm – one or two weeks in-person, and as little as 3 days virtually – so there is only so much you can learn about a firm’s business in that time. Despite this, Addleshaw Goddard has used the virtual window to add several information sessions to the scheme, which have continued as the programme has been rolled out face-to-face. For instance, Powell reports that the firm ran “a divisional overview session, to highlight the different business areas that we can offer to clients.” These Teams sessions are run by people from across the firm’s UK offices, ensuring that vac schemers get exposure to a breadth of practices. “The range of networking opportunities really helps as it gives you an insight into the breadth and diversity of people in the business,” Powell said. Indeed, for Powell, the trial and improvement of virtual communication during the pandemic has meant that firms are now able to introduce vac schemers to a greater portion of life as a trainee.

“…it hasn’t been a shock to the system in the same way.”

We know what you’re thinking. We’ve got this far without using the word ‘flexibility’. There’s no denying that it was the defining character trait of a virtual work environment, and it is an opportunity that Addleshaw Goddard were quick to move on: “We were well-prepped to work from home,” Powell told us, “So it wasn't as much of a change in work practices as it could have been.” It’s come with its perks too. According to Powell, one vac schemer was able to work remotely on the day of their graduation, and the train strikes meant assessment centres had to temporarily move online. In-person vac schemers were also given work laptops which they could take home if they needed to work remotely, with the acknowledgement that “there was the trust in us to respect that protocol.”

Tokens of advice

“It’s not easy,” Hunter tells us, but it’s important to “find things that interest you and then go from there.” Getting to know the firm before you apply is essential, because it’s the only way to draw out what it is about the work that they do that interests you – something you are bound to be asked during the application process. For El-Assaad, insight days and law fairs are the first crucial step in your research before beginning applications, as a means of showing a firm that you are genuinely interested in pursuing a future career with them. It’s tricky to secure a scheme, but El-Assaad assured that it’s not a race, and the most important thing is to “find a firm that’s right for you.”

“You really don’t need to be talking to someone every second of every day in order to make an impression,” Hunter advised. In fact, while networking is a key aspect of the vacation scheme, a successful vac schemer will make careful connections with the people that specialise in the kind of work they want to do. After all, securing a training contract means making the right impression: “From the first day, build relationships with the other candidates, HR, and the Early Careers team, to fully immerse yourself into the scheme” El-Assaad adds.

“There’s no doubt that it gave me the confidence that I was going in the right direction…”

In many ways, the biggest draw of the vacation schemes at Addleshaw Goddard is how little has changed. Both in-person and virtual vac schemers spoke about both individual and group tasks, with a heavy focus on the kind of research and drafting that helps develop the skills you’ll need for a future career: “There’s no doubt that it gave me the confidence that I was going in the right direction and knew what was going on,” Hunter explained. There was one exception, however. “Maybe hand sanitiser pumps around the office are the only new thing,” Hunter quipped, “They’re everywhere!”


Read our True Picture of trainee life at Addleshaw Goddard