An aspiring trainee who joined the vac scheme merry-go-round shares tips and advice on how to make the most of law firm vac schemes.
1. Think about which departments you want to spend time in
A vac scheme is as much for you as it is for the firm. It may be the only chance you get to explore what areas of law you're really interested in and will and won't enjoy as a lawyer. If you have a clear idea of the departments you want to go into then good. If not, now's your chance to try something you might not expect to enjoy. The experiences you get will then be a good way of highlighting why it is you are right for your chosen department down the line. Try and avoid departments that you're unlikely to have any interest at all. It's good to get a balanced experience, but a genuine lack of enthusiasm will be noticed.
2. Research the department(s) you're joining
Look up the main lawyers in the department(s) you're joining and find any prominent cases or deals they may have worked on. Take a gander at recent news stories and cases relevant to the department. The firm's website and general news outlets are good sources for this sort of information. Try and prepare three good, thoughtful questions to ask in each department. Be sure to be polite and sensible at all times – ask questions but don't get in anyone's face.
3. Be proactive in asking for work
You will probably have a main supervisor who will give you some work, but there will also be plenty of time to spare. Trainees often find themselves offering their services to whoever has extra work and the firm will expect you to do the same as a vac schemer. Avoid taking on so much work that you struggle to give it proper attention, but don't be shy in asking for more when you're finished. You shouldn't really have any downtime if you can avoid it.
4. Find a balance between making a strong impression and making multiple impressions
The more people you can impress the better. One straightforward way of doing this is offering your work services to several different sources. Try to balance this with making a strong impression on people where possible. You really want to impress your assigned supervisor who is most likely to be asked to give detailed feedback on you if you're applying for a training contract.
5. Keep a record of the work you've done and who you did it for
Keeping a record of your work may be something that the firm requires of you or not, but I would recommend it either way. First, it means you'll be able to tell the firm which different people you've worked for throughout your scheme. Second, should you be offered a training contract interview, you'll easily be able to refresh your memory of what you did on your vac scheme.
6 . The firm is actually going to use your contributions
Make sure the work you're handing in is as good as you can make it. Use your common sense to format it (if you don’t have clear instructions) in a way that’s usable. Go above and beyond by providing potentially useful additions. More than once I made the mistake of turning in work that was less than perfect, because I didn’t expect anyone to rely on it. But I was wrong to do so. Chances are you'll be given at least some real work to do, so bear that in mind. This is a good way of proving both your abilities and the fact you can show initiative.
7. You're being assessed... but not always
It's very tricky to know exactly how and when you're being assessed on a vac scheme. There are times when you will be examined under specific assessment criteria but these should be reasonably obvious. Overall, it's important to try and relax and engage with people at the firm. They want to know that they would enjoy working with you so your personality is definitely something that needs to shine through. There'll probably be some social events and while you're not going to be judged against a check list, attention might be paid to your behaviour at these. Be sociable, polite and respectful and this shouldn't be a problem. Don't be a wallflower; but don't be a crazy party animal either. Most of all, be enthusiastic!
8. Enjoy yourself
As a friend once said to me, if you can't look happy working at a law firm for two weeks, chances are you're going to be bloody miserable working there permanently. So, enjoy yourself. If you do several vac schemes and don't like any of them, then maybe the law isn't for you. Or maybe you've picked the wrong type of firm.
A good vac scheme can be the first step on a successful career in the law. Vac schemes are a great opportunity to get to know a firm and learn new things, so make the most of them!