Chris Miller, due to start his traineeship at Brodies in 2019, discusses how to get to know the right firm for you.
Whether you are in the position of applying for vacation schemes or are lucky enough to have one already lined up, I imagine that you are scouring the web for clues on what to expect. Before I tell you about my experience it is worth saying that each firm is different, but this blog might offer a clearer picture of what is in front of you.
Day one is a blur… 9am you turn up bright eyed, bushy tailed, smartly dressed, and fueled with a mixture of caffeine and nerves. I remember sitting at the reception desk with my new name tag watching people come and go before me, struggling to know what to focus on. This day is spent dealing with the administrative side of the placement, filling out details and learning health and safety procedures. Most importantly, however, is that you will meet the other placement students. Get to know them. They are not competition. In fact, they will offer you framework of support and understanding as you each try and find your feet.
Getting to know the team
My placement lasted four weeks. In the first week you will meet the department, and of course be shown and instructed on how to use the personalised IT system. It will be hilariously confusing but don’t panic, no one ever understands first time much more than how to send an email.
First impressions are key. You want to let each individual know how excited you are to be there and that if there is anything you can do to help them to just email you. An introductory email to the team to reinforce this is sound advice. At the beginning the work flow may seem slow. I always made the effort to be on the front foot, striking up conversations where I could and asking about what each person had to do that day. The more engaged you are, the more you will be asked to get involved.
Over the course of the four weeks there were several assessments to complete as well as a presentation, each counting toward the interview component of the traineeship recruitment. There were written exercises and role-playing situations, the kind of thing you would expect at an assessment centre, and a separate interview for formality. Each offered the chance to show off what you had learned about the firm since you had started. I always made sure that I had a copy of the firms’ brochure or annual review handy. And whenever I had a spare minute I would glance through the online hub which had newly published articles relating to the different departments. All of this information is gold dust when it comes to assignments and interviews.
The presentation worried me most. I had been given a specific area of law to research and was asked to present my findings to the team. My biggest concern was that I was going to have to pitch my “expertise” to lawyers who had been lawyers longer than I had been me. I put a lot of work into it, but not as much as I would have liked as I had taken on a lot of ongoing department work. This however, was an unknown advantage. It would have been very easy to be consumed by the project and to spend most of my day working on it, but to do so would mean sacrificing the chance to get involved with everything going on around me. The value of your potential as a future employee is shown through proving that you are capable of dealing with the day-to-day demands of the job. The assessments are important but do not overemphasise them. At the end of the day, I didn’t and it paid off.
I imagine that you are desperate to find out how many hours you will be expected to work, and no wonder with stories of corporate lawyers sleeping in their offices doing the rounds throughout university. In reality no one would bat an eyelid if you got up and left at 5pm. But that is a point within itself… no one would notice. You want to be noticed. Fair enough if you have literally nothing to do, although if you find yourself in a sizeable law firm this is highly unlikely. Even if you have completed all of your work by midday, ask around to find some tasks to keep yourself busy. For me some nights it was 6.30pm, some nights 8pm, one night in particular it was 12am, but all of this is relative to how involved you can get.
Last bit of advice
The vacation scheme truly is what you make of it. The onus is on you to get involved and learn what you can from people who have a wealth of intellect and expertise. Don’t get bogged down on the assessments, the value of the placement is being a part of it all.