Vac Scheme Secrets: What the Firm is Looking For

Vac schemes can seem really pressurised as you are thrown into a new working environment, constantly meeting new people and contending with new tasks you might never have done before. I am sharing the top five things law firms are looking for in you for you to focus on when you get to your vac scheme to ensure that you are getting yourself across as best as you can in the hope of getting a TC offer!

1. Your use of common sense and initiative

When you’re given tasks you will be expected to use your common sense and initiative to do things. I have heard many partners talk about the beauty of google meaning newbies need to ask less and less questions because there is a huge amount of information they can find online. If you’ve got a task you’re unsure about, see what information you can find on the firm portal if you have access to it, and on the internet. Often a quick google explains the clause you’re looking for in a contract, or helps you to assess whether the law applies to a company you’re looking at. Try to demonstrate that you’ve shown initiative by giving tasks a go and researching them before you decide you need to answer further questions. It’s absolutely fine to ask questions and need further guidance on a task, but firms are looking for evidence that you can get on and solve issues and research tasks yourself.

2. Your ability to apply yourself to anything and everything

Sure, you may be given some tasks that you feel are very easy or basic, or maybe you’ve been given a task that seems impossibly hard. The important thing is to give everything a go and with the same enthusiasm. Again, don’t be afraid to ask extra questions to help you clarify what you’re supposed to do, but make sure you’re enthusiastic about everything you’re given to do. Make sure you do it to the best of your ability and double check it for any typos or silly mistakes. You will be graded on how good your work is so make sure you don’t slip up just because you’re less interested in a certain task. Unfortunately, there are some mundane tasks that all lawyers have to complete, so you’ll need to make sure you’re there for the more standard simple work as well as the exciting stuff.

3. Your engagement with the firm and the people you meet there

Most grad recruitment teams will organise a range of events and socials to help you get to know the firm, team-build and network. At these events make an effort to work the room and talk to as many people as you can – it can be tempting to stick with the new friends you’ve made or the one person you’ve got to know well in your department but the firm will be looking to see how well you interact with other people, in particular with the partners who may have a direct say in whether they think you’re fit for a training contract.

If you’re a little bit nervous/shy when it comes to these kinds of events (which I can be!), I have two main tips:

Don’t be afraid to break into a group of people you don’t know. Start by saying something like ‘hi I don’t think we have met, but I thought I would come and introduce myself’. They are there so you can talk to them so make the most of it!

Prepare some questions in case the conversation is a little dry/awkward to start. Things like ‘what department are you in?’ ‘What made you want to qualify into financial services?’ Or whatever department they said they were in. Some other basic questions to ask are about what do they like about the law firm, what are their thoughts in a current legal issue. If you’ve read something interesting that relates to the department they are working with, bring it up! Now’s your change to rack their brain on an interesting and relevant issue whilst also showing them that you are interesting and commercially aware. (If you need more help with preparing questions for interviews and networking, check back later this week for a post on Partner Question Time)

4. Your reliability and punctuality

This applies to assessment centres and interviews too – there is nothing worse than turning up late to things, whether that’s the start of the working day or a networking lunch the firm planned for you. If you feel like you have a lot of work and aren’t surd how to fit in all the events try to prioritise what you need to do and consider coming in a bit earlier the next day to tie up any backlog you might have. You want to show the firm that you are reliable, organised and able to both time keep and time manage. On my vac scheme a girl turned up 30 minutes late and although she was a strong candidate I did notice that she didn’t get any further with her application, in particular as she missed the first introductions with grad recruitment and the current trainees.

5. Remember – at the vac scheme you are permanently on interview.

It can seem stressful, and I want you to feel able to relax a bit at the interview, but it is important that you remain alert and professional at all times whether that is in the office or out for a team building mini golf event with the graduate recruitment event. They want to see that you are approachable, can mix with a variety of people, but also that you know there are some professional/personal boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. This isn’t as strict as it sounds – basic suggestions are to limit what you drink at events (or risk becoming the infamous vac schemer who threw up on a trainee’s shoes), treat everyone respectfully and with the same amount of friendliness. If you feel you don’t get in with another one of the candidates – don’t let it show. Don’t gossip about them – you can’t be sure who it will get back to. Be as friendly to them as the rest of the candidates as you don’t want to give off any hostile vibes which might be felt by the grad recruitment team. And remember, some of these are very likely to be future trainees with you so you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with them! Sometimes first impressions aren’t always right – someone you weren’t sure about in the vac scheme might end up being your best work buddy during your trainee years. Keep those doors open.

Finally, try to enjoy it. As vac schemes go you will likely be very busy, attending events about the different things going on in the firm, meeting new people all the time, juggling a variety of tasks and probably getting to eat a lot of food (my personal vac scheme weakness was the hot choc machine 🤫😫). 100% make the most of it, bask in the moments when you have your nerves under control and picture yourself there. Who knows, this might be the first week of your new job, and new life as a trainee lawyer.

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