A vacation placement is a term usually used to describe periods of internship at law firms. Vacation placements are a good way to find out whether a career in law is right for you and what type of firm will suit you best. It also looks great on your CV as it shows your commitment to law and that law firms are willing to hire you (even if it is just for a week or two).
Many firms take the opportunity during placements to assess your potential as a trainee. They are looking for people who will fit into the firm academically and socially. The way you interact with other people and use your skills in a working environment is far more revealing than a paper-based application and consequently recruiters will be judging you throughout your placement. If you do well, there is a chance you may be offered a Training Contract at the end of it.
Vacation placements usually last two to four weeks and offer remuneration, which can sometimes be quite good. Firms in London can pay up to £300 a week plus expenses (£200 outside London).
Apply for Vacation Placements at various types of firm. Choose different size firms, and firms who work in different fields. This should help you make an informed choice regarding the type of firm you would like to work for.
During Your Placement
Most Vacation Placements require you to do some work for the firm, although most of your time will be spent work shadowing. You may do basic tasks such as drafting, taking minutes at client meetings, writing letters and undertaking legal research. There will almost certainly be a social side to the placement, where students can get to know each other in an informal situation. There will also be opportunities to meet other members of staff such as current trainees, HR and partners.
You should use these opportunities to build relationships and contacts with these people, mingling can significantly improve your chances of getting hired.
Vacation Placement Applications
Vacation Placements are highly competitive so make sure you make your applications early. If you are currently studying law at university, you should try to secure a scheme during the summer before your final year; if you are reading other subjects, apply during the summer following your third year. Many firms use the same application structure as for training contracts applications, with interviews and assessment days.
Although high street solicitors have not generally taken up the idea of vacation placements, it's still worth applying to smaller firms if you can’t get a placement with a major firm. The Government Legal Service (GLS) also offers vacation placements working in, for example, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Transport, the Ministry of Defence or the Treasury. Commercial banks, investment banks, oil companies and other large companies run placements in the summer, and you may be able to work-shadow in their in-house legal department.
Many law firms regard such general commercial experience favourably. Shadowing a judge or undertaking a mini-pupilage is also good experience of the legal world, and can help you to decide which career path to go down. Such work is usually unpaid but is experience worth having. If you don’t manage to get a placement, don’t give up. Many firms run open days for those who have been unsuccessful, with lectures, training sessions and a taste of work shadowing.