How to Convert Your Vacation Scheme To a Training Contract

Purple briefcase
Next City Lawyer
May 5, 2023
[time to read]
min read


Well done! You’ve made it to the final step of the journey towards achieving a training contract. Few people make it this far. Only the very top candidates get vacation schemes, and, if you are reading this, you are in that camp!

Before you pop open the champagne, you must remember that the journey isn’t quite over. A vacation scheme is a fantastic opportunity to gain valuable industry experience and earn some money. But the scheme’s true value comes from the opportunity it presents to get a training contract offer.

Some firms may say that there are training contracts available for everyone on the vacation scheme. Other firms will have fewer training contracts to offer, meaning that vacation schemers who do not perform as well may miss out. Whatever your situation, you need to understand that this is an extended assessment process for a training contract. It’s not a victory lap before you are handed a job with a ~£50k salary. You must be at your best to convert your vacation schemes to a training contract. Yes, you are in the top ~10% of candidates, but there is still ample opportunity to walk away with nothing.

What we will discuss

Over the course of this article, we will cover:

  1. the types of activities you may encounter on a typical vacation scheme;
  2. how to perform best in each of said activities; and
  3. bust some common myths about what you should or should not be doing on your scheme.

We suggest looking at our other legal blog articles if you have yet to get a vacation scheme. We recommend the ones which cover preparing for assessment centres and researching law firms.

What to Expect on Your Vacation Scheme

In this post and article, we will focus on what to expect during in-person schemes as these have returned to the norm.

Very common

On an in-person vacation scheme, the firm will almost always ask you to participate in:

  1. real work (set by your supervisor or given to you by others);
  2. social events organised by the firm;
  3. presentations given to you by members of the firm; and
  4. a final exit interview/assessment. 


Depending on your firm, they may ask you to get involved with:

  1. group presentations (given by yourself and some of your peers);
  2. assessment centre style exercises, such as case study/presentation or written exercises.

How to Stand Out at Vacation Scheme Work

The importance of your supervisor

The majority of vacation schemes will have you doing some real work. When you start your vacation scheme, you will be assigned a department or team and a supervisor. For example, you may be sitting in dispute resolution with the energy litigation team. You will likely share an office with your supervisor and they will set you the majority of your work. Your performance on the work they set you and your interactions with them will be crucial in determining whether you convert your convert vacation scheme into training contract one.

You should bear in mind that every supervisor is going to be different. If you have a multi-week vacation scheme, your supervisor (and department) may change over the course of the programme. For instance, some supervisors may be very informal and encourage a more relaxed working environment. They will still demand a high quality of work, but they value your personal interaction with them to a greater than normal extent. Some supervisors may be more formal. They may be very busy and require you to take the initiative when it comes to your work and limit your discussions with them to said work. You must be ready to adapt your behaviour accordingly.

A supervisor and a trainee solictior

Whilst supervisors do differ in some respects, they will always demand high-quality work from you and appropriate answers to their questions. After all, a vacation scheme is an assessment for a training contract! So, if your supervisor asks you why you want to pursue a career in commercial law, do not brush this off or give a light-hearted answer. They are asking the question because they are assessing you! You should adapt the tone of your response to the context and rapport that you have with your supervisor but keep the substantive content the same as if the question was asked in formal interview.

Top tips for doing real work

When it comes to doing real work, you should bear in mind a few things.

  1. Ask clarificatory questions in a considered manner: The first is that it is unlikely you will be set a task that is impossible for you to complete given your experience and skill level. Most tasks involve some amount of drafting (whether that is for a contract, document summaries or blog articles) and will require you to conduct your own research. In our experience as supervisors of trainees, the quality of the tasks that you are set may differ. Most firms will require supervisors to involve vacation scheme students in ad-hoc tasks. On practice, the quality of the task that you are set will depend on how much time your supervisor has been able to dedicate to setting the work for you vs. their other day-to-day responsibilities.
  2. You should remember that you can always ask clarificatory questions if needed but try to limit them. The last thing you want to do is irritate your supervisor by repeatedly coming to them with small questions. Save up your questions and try to figure out the answer yourself. If you are stuck, you should ask your supervisor if they have 10 minutes to run through a few questions. Don’t leave this until last minute but ensure that your questions are carefully considered and not communicated piecemeal. You may feel that your supervisor is pushing you outside of your comfort zone, but that is part of the challenge!
  3. Adopt a clear structure: Carefully consider the structure of your written work and the quality of your research and writing. Someone will likely ask you to conduct some research and write up a short memorandum summarising your findings. Non-law and law students alike are often flummoxed by how to structure such a document. Law schools teach students to follow an ‘issue, rule, analysis, conclusion’ (IRAC) structure. Whilst this structure is useful, you need to be more flexible and refined in your approach. When drafting your memorandum, consider adopting the following structure:
  4. an executive summary (often in bullet points) which sets out your answer upfront so that the reader can concentrate on following your logic in the main part of the document;
  5. set out the issue (or point of discussion) in plain terms;
  6. lay out your findings based on your research;
  7. if appropriate, give your opinion on the matter (it is unlikely that you will need to do this given the task and your position);
  8. give a short concluding remark which captures the key point (which will be set out in your executive summary); and
  9. repeat points two to five depending on the number of issues or points you have for discussion.

Some law firms will actually give you some training sessions on drafting while you are on the scheme. But to get ahead, it is worth researching legal drafting before you start so that you have some practice. Your spelling and grammar need to be perfect. Everyone is human and makes mistakes, but you should be proofreading your work thoroughly before sending it. Print it off and review it in hard copy if necessary. Typographical or grammatical mistakes will work against your goal of converting your vacation to scheme into a training contract.

  1. Seek out work from other lawyers where possible: You should also look for work from other lawyers if your supervisor and capacity allow for it. It is best practice to ask your supervisor if they would be happy with you getting work from others. You should also prioritise the work your supervisor sets you. Be sure not to overload yourself with work. If you fail to complete all the work you have taken on, you will find that this reflects badly on your work ethic or judgement.
  2. Complete your work within normal office hours: You should not to stay too late in the office working. Although it may seem counterintuitive, law firms are unlikely to like seeing you work late into the evening. Some law firms will even turf their vacation schemers out of the office at around 5-6 pm. Even if you have the opportunity to stay late, we would generally advise not doing so. Working overtime suggests to law firms that you have taken on too much work and cannot manage your time efficiently!
  3. Keep a record of the work you have done: Finally, keep a work diary which keeps track of what work you did, for whom you did the work, when the work was set, and some general opinions and thoughts about the task. You should use this diary to refresh your memory before you have coffee chats with others and when it comes to your exit interview (see below). It will also help you in the future if you need to refer back to the work that you completed while on your vacation scheme.

Social Events on Your Vacation Scheme

Some candidates forget themselves in the informal environment of vacation schemes, particularly in their interactions with other students. This is most likely to happen on the social events arranged by firms in the evening. We have several tips for behaving appropriately during these kinds of activities.

  1. Don’t overdo the free drinks: First, if there is alcohol, stay well within your limits. You can save the celebrations for after you have received your training contract offer. It’s embarrassing to get overly intoxicated and make the inevitable faux pas that follows. We have seen a vacation scheme student vomit over a partner’s shoes and get taken home by HR. Needless to say, they did not get offered a training contract.
  2. You should not feel pressured to drink. There is nothing wrong with sipping juice or water instead. However, we recommend still attending the events even if you choose not to drink alcohol. It’s a good opportunity to get to know other students, lawyers at the firm and HR. The conversations you have with these people will help ensure that you are more than just a name on an applicant list when it comes to training contract decisions. You also have an opportunity to talk to the firm's trainees and, perhaps, get a more candid description of what it is like to train at the firm.
  3. Enjoy yourself: The firm intends such social events to be fun. They may take you bowling or to some other ‘competitive’ activity. At the end of the day, you are meant to relax and have fun. The law firm will not be judging you on whether you beat your peers at some game. Do not let your competitive side get the best of you and become unpleasant or rude as a result. Focus on having fun and celebrate your peers’ victories. In fact, this is more likely to foster a more pleasant atmosphere and impress any onlookers from the firm. The firm is looking for teamwork and camaraderie, not for a lone wolf!
  4. Behave appropriately: It is easy to be swept away in the informal and bubbly atmosphere. You need to behave as if your words and actions are being noticed by HR or graduate recruitment. A good rule is if you would not say or do it in front of them, do not do it at the event!
A trainee solicitor doing his tie

Succeeding in Assessed Law Firm Group Presentations

Balance is key

The same rules apply to group presentations, but there are some additional nuances. Although this activity may not form part of the formal assessment process, you should ensure that you are diplomatic and respectful towards your teammates. Do not dominate the conversation with your teammates and try to steal the leadership role. Equally, though, you need to be present and not fade into the background. The best course of action is to work with your team to divide up the task and work on your respective parts, helping each other when necessary.

If you are not given the chance to speak...

During the presentation, everyone should have the same opportunity to speak. Sometimes this does not happen and you may be the one left without enough time to speak. If that happens, do not worry. The firm will have taken note of what has happened and they will not penalise you. The worst thing you can do is try to wrestle the spotlight back on you mid-presentation! 

Although it may be a disaster if you run out of time and have been unable to speak, you can always try to recover. If there is any question time at the end of the presentation, you should definitely push yourself forward to answer those questions. Ideally, prior to the presentation beginning, you may want to have a polite word with your teammates to say something to the effect of, “we don’t have much time to give the presentation, so we need to make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute. Would everyone be happy if they had [insert time frame here] to talk each?”. That way, if someone does ramble on, the assessors know that you did not talk but not for want of trying!

Don't try and be the main character

On a related note, do not hog the spotlight when it is your time to speak. You should always thank the person who spoke before you (using their name). Then, politely hand over the spotlight to your teammate (again, using their name). In practice, this may sound something like: ‘Thank you [Teammate A] […] now I will hand over to [Teammate B] who will cover [Topic C].’. Remembering your teammates’ names will be greatly appreciated by them and rewarded by your assessors!

Presentations by the Law Firm

Convincing you to accept a training contract offer

The number of presentations graduate recruitment expects you to attend will vary from firm to firm, but you should expect to be given at least a couple. Although these may seem rather dull or excessive, they are being put on for your benefit. Believe it or not, these presentations are the firm trying to sell themselves to you. If you are offered a training contract, they want to convince you to accept it!

Information to convert your vacation scheme into a training contract

These presentations also serve to give you some more information which you can employ in your final interview. Listen carefully. You don’t need to note down every word but do note down points that are interesting to you or that you can use to enrich your prepared answers to interview questions.

Other than paying attention and taking these presentations seriously, you should also ask thoughtful questions to speakers when given the option. You may find that certain candidates adopt a show-off approach. They ask questions that are designed to highlight the candidate’s knowledge about a particular area or make them sound interesting. You should avoid emulating this strategy. The aim of asking questions is to satisfy your own curiosity about a particular topic. If you try to show off, you risk being called out for your arrogance and irritating not only your peers but also those at the firm.

You should also avoid questions which are obviously aimed at trying to glean information for the final exit interview. For example, you should avoid asking ‘in your opinion, what makes [firm name] unique?’. This is a blatant attempt to get an answer for a ‘why this firm?’ style of question. If you are genuinely interested in the individual you are posing the question to and what has kept them at the firm, it may be worth asking something like ‘I know you have been at the firm for quite some time, what has kept you at the firm and convinced you not to go to a competitor?’.

As a general rule - don't show off

You should note that this advice extends beyond asking questions at the end of the firm’s presentations and applies to when you are speaking directly with trainees, associates, and partners. Ask meaningful questions to which you are interested in the answers. Do not try to show off and don’t ask that are obviously fodder for interview answers.

End of Vacation Scheme Assessment Interview

Different formats and timings

Some firms skip the final exit interview process, but most have some kind of end-of-scheme assessment. Depending on your firm, the kind of assessment will be different and the assessment may be right at the end of your scheme or there may be a few weeks or short break in between the end of your scheme and the assessment.

Evolve your answers to incorporate your vacation scheme experience

When it comes to the interview aspect of the final assessment, there are a few things to keep in mind. To begin with, your interviewer will expect you to draw upon the experiences you had during the scheme and use them in your answers. You may be asked similar questions to those you answered when applying to the firm’s vacation scheme. It is now not good enough to recycle those answers. You will have spent at least a week with the firm, and the firm now expects you to have more detailed knowledge about why you want to pursue a career in commercial law, why you want to work at said firm, and why you would make for a good fit at the firm. Certain interviewers may ask how your opinion of the firm has changed since you started at the firm. Using your experience gained while on the scheme to inform your answer will be especially important here. 

You will also need to recall and discuss the activities and work you engaged with over the course of the scheme. Your interviewer may have a copy of some of the work that you completed. Before the interview, you should review your work diary and reflect on what you have accomplished. Be prepared to talk about what you did and how you found it. Your interviewer is likely to probe into what approach you took, why you took that approach, did you enjoy the work (and why), and what feedback did you get. 

Your interviewer may ask a more generic question, such as ‘what did you get up to over the course of the scheme?’ or ‘what did you think of the scheme?’. In answer to the first question, you should reply with specific activities and pieces of work, in chronological order if possible. For the second question, you should give a well-structured, detailed answer. Saying ‘I enjoyed it’, is not enough. The exit interview may feel more informal but you should treat it like you would any assessment centre!

Two men sitting at a table

Keep a couple of your own questions ready 

Finally, you should make sure that you have a few questions on hand to ask your interviewer at the end of the interview. It never looks good when the interviewer asks a candidate ‘do you have any questions?’ and the response is ‘no’. To come up with some good questions, we suggest that you reflect on the scheme and consider your interviewer’s experience. For example, your interviewer may be a partner in pensions, but you did not get the chance to engage with the pensions team. You can lead with this fact before asking the interviewer about their department and experience.

An extra case study assessment?

You may also have a case study/presentation or written exercise as part of your final interview. We have already written an article covering how to prepare for assessment centres and produced a mock case study exercise which you can use to practice ahead of your assessment. You should prepare for these assessments just like you would when applying to the firm in the first instance. Do not neglect your commercial awareness and your answers to motivation and competency-based questions!

Overcoming Vacation Scheme Myths

Don't drown in the coffee (chats)

Some individuals suggest that you need to be going for coffee with all the lawyers you meet at the firm. We do recommend organising one or two coffee meet-ups with people in your department who you have interacted with. But you do not need to go overboard. The bulk of your assessment will stem from the work that you complete and any other assessments or interviews. The feedback you receive from others does matter but there is no need to try to woo the whole office through coffee chats. You should conduct coffee chats because you have an interest in the person you are meeting up with, not for the purposes of your assessment!

Don't overload yourself

You may also hear candidates talking about taking on as much work as possible. As we discussed previously, overloading yourself with work, working too late and missing deadlines is a sure-fire way to miss out on a training contract. If you have the capacity you should try to take on some more work. The more work that you do well the more you will learn and have the opportunity to impress the firm. But you need to balance this with your own well-being and capability.

Don't adopt a persona, just be yourself

Certain candidates will try to play a character or establish themselves as a particular kind of person. You may find those who are trying to be the try-hard, or the jester, or the fiery one. These individuals put on such personas to impress others, either through intelligence or humour. We want to assure you that you should just be yourself. Do not be discouraged if you feel you are not as colourful as others. Keep your head down and channel your efforts into your work and assessments, and your politeness with those around you. Doing so will be what maximises your chances of converting your scheme to a training contract!


This article has covered how to convert your vacation scheme to a training contract. Specifically, we have discussed the kinds of tasks that you will be faced with on a vacation scheme and how best to approach them. If you perfect your approach to these activities, you are in the best position to convert your vacation scheme to a much-coveted training contract.

Our summary

To summarise our advice:

  1. Ensure you communicate appropriately with your supervisor. Match their tone, but always remain professional.
  2. Produce good quality work, paying particular attention to your structure and quality of research.
  3. Do not stay in the office too late.
  4. Record the tasks that you have completed in a work diary.
  5. Act cordially and support your peers. Avoid coming across as too competitive.
  6. Ensure appropriate behaviour during social events and limit your alcohol consumption. If you would not say or do it in front of graduate recruitment, do not say or do it.
  7. Actively listen during the firm’s presentations and take notes where appropriate.
  8. Ask questions only when you are interested in the answer. Avoid asking questions in an attempt to show off.
  9. Prepare for the final exit interview in the same way you would for a typical assessment centre. Ensure that you update your answers with experiences you had on the scheme. Revise your work diary as part of your preparation. Do not neglect your answers to competency questions and your commercial awareness.

And finally:

  1. Have fun!

You are almost at the end of a challenging journey. Vacation schemes can be tough but they should also be enjoyable. Keep focused, do your best, and have fun – you are one step away from your career as a commercial solicitor! 

We hope you found this article useful – if you did, please share it with other candidates who might find it helpful!

You can learn more about how we can help you secure a training contract here.  

  • Our Application Database has >95 examples of successful applications for >70 different law firms for £14.99 each. Each application includes expert line-by-line commentary by our team of qualified solicitors from US, Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms to help you craft your own perfect application and secure a training contract.
  • Our Practice Case Study will help you turn your assessment centre into a training contract offer. This realistic mock case study takes 45 minutes to complete. It includes >15 pages of expert feedback which will teach you vital commercial content that you need to know and help you to assess how strong your practice performance was.  It costs just £19.99.
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