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Beginning a vacation scheme can be a daunting task. While the simple act of being offered a place on a scheme is a significant achievement, achieving success and making the most of it remains the final hurdle in the journey to a training contract. On top of this, having unfettered access to a top-tier firm and its network of lawyers creates the additional pressure of knowing how to maximise your time and the opportunity in front of you. With these two thoughts in mind, I have penned some advice and reflections drawing from my own time and success on one of TLT’s vacation schemes.
In many ways, a vacation scheme is like an exam. It is an opportunity to show off the legal ability, commercial knowledge, and interpersonal skills that you have spent your time diligently curating. And just as you would never show up to an exam unprepared, nor should you to a vacation scheme.
Of course, preparation requires a degree of lateral thinking as there is no set curriculum. Personally, I spent the days leading up to the beginning of my scheme researching the team I would be a part of and apprising myself of any interesting commercial developments.
During the week itself, I focused on ensuring that I was prepared for any meetings or presentations by noting down any questions, topics of conversation, or outcomes I wanted to achieve.
Nerves are natural, and act as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they keep you energised and alert. But they can also be detrimental to your success if you allow them to overwhelm you. Personally, this was something I initially struggled with during my first real interactions with the commercial law world. However, over time I made some helpful realisations. Firstly, there is an awful lot more to lose from being nervous, unsure, and withdrawn, than there is from being self-assured and actively engaged. You only have a short time to stand out and fully benefit from the experience; allowing your nerves to inhibit your ability to be fully engaged or show off your best self runs counter to this aim.
Secondly, everyone wants to help you succeed. Be it your buddy or a partner, everyone at the firm is invested in you having a meaningful time and no one is looking to trip you up. It is a time you should feel comfortable to be inquisitive, to learn from mistakes, and showcase your talents.
A vacation scheme is not just an opportunity to show off your best qualities, but a chance to develop in a personal and professional capacity. Over the time you spend at the firm, you will be enveloped by interesting work and professionals at the top of their game. There is a mount of opportunities for those willing to seek them out, and there are many ways you can do this. For example, you can reach out for meetings with lawyers across the firm working in sectors of interest that you are keen to learn more about. Even asking questions about the wider commercial context of a piece of work you are completing is an excellent way to go the extra mile.
A common temptation while on a vacation scheme is to try and rush through as much work as possible, and to constantly be striving to start the next task. However, while this may seem like an excellent way to stand out, the truth is that it can often come at the detriment of quality.
During the scheme, you are not expected to be a ‘finished product’ or someone capable of seamlessly producing pieces of high-quality work. Instead, the attention is on whether you display the basic qualities that act as the foundations for a successful career in law. Qualities such as attention to detail, clarity of writing, and the ability to demonstrate strong legal research skills will all ensure you stand out. Additionally, it is incredibly rewarding to spend the time coming to grips with the small details.
Finally, try and have fun! As nerve wracking as a vacation scheme is, it can also be an extremely enjoyable experience. Additionally, I attribute a significant proportion of my success to my mindset. Whether it was the opportunity to work on real client matters or developing a presentation with my fellow vacation schemers, I saw it as less of a formal assessment and more an opportunity to challenge myself and learn something new. Perceiving the scheme this way certainly lessened the pressure, and also helped me find the confidence to make the most of the scheme.
22 February 2022