Applying for my vacation scheme felt a little bit like Elle Woods when she was working her socks off to get into law school after Warner dumped her.
My application for the vacation scheme at the law firm of my dreams was due a month after I went through the worst break up of my life and I was certainly not feeling the most optimistic about it. But, I had been excited about applying for months so I was not going to throw away my chance.
I had always ummed and erred about being a lawyer – I’m a Libra and I always joked that that was a sign that I would end up working in law in one way or another. I didn’t know what kind of law I wanted to work in until recently – so don’t fret if you are in this position and aren’t sure what you want to do. For a long time I thought I would end up in family law or criminal law, but after a year volunteering for the Witness Service at my local crown court I decided that wasn’t for me.
In the end, I decided on applying to an international commercial law firm because two of the main things that interested me were languages, and the way that politics affects business. This sold me on doing work that involved cross-border deals or projects and that would give me a chance to use my language skills as well as see how geopolitics affect the world in real life. Some of the best advice I was given is to apply to places where you have a genuine interest in the work they do – not just because you want the experience. So if your passion is tax fraud and the law firm you have applied to only specialises in employment law, it might make your application and interview a little trickier. Once I got to interview it became apparent how easy it would have been for them to tell if you weren’t really interested in what they did, or if you didn’t know enough about it.
As part of my application I remember having to put down a choice of which departments/seats I was most interested in being exposed to should I get the vac scheme place. Again, do not worry if you don’t know! I had no idea at the time. I was interested in loads of seats but didn’t know that much about each of them. It wasn’t until I was on my vacation scheme that I got to learn so much about what each different department did and law firms completely understand that this is as much of a chance for you to learn about their firm as it is for them to learn about you and how well you work. The main thing I focused on when researching the firm was what its specialisms and key sectors were.
I actually only submitted an application to one firm – which, as everyone later told me, was both risky and unusual. However, I was applying for a winter vacation scheme which meant if I didn’t get it I could still apply for spring and summer schemes at other firms. My recommendation would be to apply for four to five firms max to make sure you truly have time to research them and that you only apply to firms that you have a genuine interest in. Not all firms offer winter vacation schemes, so don’t feel under pressure to get one in before January. Spring and summer schemes are equally as good and are more routinely offered by law firms.
The next most important thing that I looked for in the firm was its culture and values. It is key that you apply to a firm where you think you will fit in. On a vacation scheme, it is not just your work being assessed, but also you as a person: your attitude, your values, the way you come across. They are assessing whether or not you could fit in with their team, with their vision, with their ethos.
I knew I wanted to train at a firm which had pro bono work as well as diversity access initiatives as a key part of its culture. I worked for two years with a charity which mentored young people in disadvantaged areas and the difference that partnerships and initiatives from big firms and businesses made to their lives was amazing. They were able to chat with people who had been given a chance to enter a career they never thought they were capable of, and able to see that their background did not have to be a barrier to achieving. I knew that wherever I worked I would want to be involved in initiating and sustaining these kind of partnerships and mentoring schemes, so that helped me to narrow down my choice as to which firm I could see myself at.
The final thing to be prepared for when finding your firm and applying to it is knowing what kind of tests you will have to do as part of the application. They vary from firm to firm – some prefer the Watson-Glaser test (which I suck at! thankfully the firm I chose didn’t do that) or they do a selection of verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. I did what is considered to be the trickiest non-verbal shape sequence selecting test on the EARTH in the circles of law firms. My advice is – keep calm. Do it in a quiet space with a cup of tea and a biscuit. And don’t panic if it seemed really hard: generally, you do better than you think!
I remember submitting my application and a few weeks later being in class when I got an email with my invitation to the assessment centre. I nearly fell off my chair, but because I was in class I had to remain completely composed and pretend that email hadn’t just popped up on my laptop screen where ten seconds before I had been taking my lecture notes. I was so happy, especially after the amount of work just applying took! I was so surprised I had passed the non-verbal reasoning test but honestly what I learned from then was that the journey to a training contract is unpredictable, and more importantly, it’s different for everyone.
And as people kept telling me – to even get to an assessment centre is an incredible achievement. Success is relative and does not always come round first time, but the key is to not give up and to analyse exactly where you can improve and do better for next time.