Vac Attack!

If you’re a fresh-faced student starting out on your legal career path, you may have heard in hushed whispers students talking about vac schemes.  When are the deadlines? How do you apply? What should you do when you’re on one? You may have also noticed these whispers tend to be rather stressed. This is because, in the competitive employment market of legal services a vac scheme, or vacation scheme, can be an important step in obtaining a training contractor pupillage.

Whilst on the outset a vacation scheme is work experience for one or two weeks with a law firm, many law firms use them to screen for potential training contract recruits….and competition is fierce!
So, we asked the top law firm Jones Day for some advice for OULS members when making their training contract and vacation scheme applications.

Application transformation

  • Do your research first

A firms’ website is a great place to start when researching a potential vac scheme.  What they do, which locations they have offices in, the firm’s history, and much more.  Don’t just stop there though. Look around and read-up on news stories and articles related to the firm and their fields.  Getting a feel for the firm as well as a more in depth knowledge of current affairs can really help you find where the opportunities are, and show that you know your stuff! For a head start check out which contains information about all major law firms in the UK, tools for locating your ideal firm, and everything you could need to help make sound career decisions!

‘[Jones Day] interview about 20% of all applicants (ie conduct about 300/320 interviews) from which we select 72 to attend our placements schemes. All who attend our placement schemes are guaranteed training contract interviews. We recruit our trainees from our placement schemes. We offer about 20 training contracts every September and recruit 2/2.5 years ahead.  A placement scheme application this year is a training contract application to start in September 2019.’

  • Your Open University degree will not hold you back

It’s easy to convince yourself that you stand less of a chance because you lack A-levels, or that you have not attended a brick and mortar university. The truth is that Open University law students make excellent lawyers.  The ability to work unsupervised and independently, with proven initiative and dedication, which are all traits that employers love. Don’t be put off, GO AND APPLY!

‘We recruit individuals, not stereotypes, and so consider each applicant on his/her individual merits and in the round. We are also proud to be using the Rare Contextual recruitment tool which enables us to better evaluate an applicant’s achievements in the light of his/her own personal, economic and educational background.

We give people chances. We have one current second year trainee who entered University on an access programme as a career changer and without any A levels at all. We have another first-year trainee who took his Open University law degree exams whilst in Afghanistan in an army career and first came to us as a paralegal.’

  • Be brave

Sure, you know how to sell your strengths on your application, but give some real thought to your weaknesses too.  Everyone uses the ‘I work too hard’ weakness, so be confident and don’t shy away from elaborating. The same goes for poor grades. Don’t be put off because you’re not perfect. As long as you have good overall grades the strength of your application will still shine through.

‘Be honest about your story (don’t hide poor grades or say you’ve always wanted to do law if that is not true). A strong applicant will evidence his/her personality in the application and cover letter and demonstrate (in the 350 words we permit) an articulate, confident, and convincing argument as to why we should hire him/her – not just set it out in 3 bulleted Q&A statements.’

  • Sweat the small stuff

Typos, incorrect dates, late applications, you name it. When a firm has a lot of applications these are the things that will hurt you the most. Make sure to apply early to get your foot in the door. Don’t double check your application, TRIPLE check it! If you are lucky enough to be invited to an interview, dress for the job; smart and functional.

‘Don’t use “big words” you don’t understand or try to impress. Avoid hackneyed phrases such as “honing” your skills, “transferable skills, “the “multi-faceted nature of law”. Don’t tell, show (ie evidence why you are suited to a commercial legal career and like our training rather than just stating it).’

Speaking of the job…

Making the most of it

  • Get involved

Commit to the role and take up the opportunities offered to you whilst on the vac scheme. There will be all sorts of work and social opportunities to try new things and meet new people. Network, learn and leave a positive impression on those you have worked with.

  • Find out more

An important part of any vac scheme is to find out what it is like to work in a law firm, what areas of law you may wish to work in, and to get an overall feel for that company. Asking thoughtful questions to the right people can help open doors and allow you to discover more about them and the positions you hope to end up in. Remember, a vac scheme is a two-way street, you’re not just there to work, you’re also there to find out if this career avenue is right for you.

  • Keep your chin up

Sometimes you may end up in a department you don’t want to work in. Maybe this isn’t your first rodeo and you’re a veteran of vac schemes. Or it could just be a miserable rainy day, you may be feeling glum, and just can’t work up the enthusiasm. Keep at it. Don’t let yourself flag. Your hard work will be reflected during the training contract interview after the vac scheme, and you’ll want to have left a good impression.

From all of us at the OULS news team, we wish you the best of luck in your placement hunt. Don’t forget your fellow OULS members are always on hand to give you support and advice!

Upcoming Vac Scheme Application Deadlines:

(Deadlines are for guidance only and cannot be guaranteed. Whilst correct at time of writing, this list will not be updated and we cannot take responsibility for any inaccuracies. Firms may also update their information at any time. We strongly advise you check deadline dates for yourself and not to reply on those below.)

November 30th – Baker & McKenzie (spring)

December 16th – Jones Day (spring)

December 30th – Addleshaw Goddard

December 31st – Allen & Overy (spring & summer)

– Bird & Bird

– Clyde & Co

– Dechert (spring)

– Dentons (spring & summer)

– Morrison & Foerster


For a full list of deadlines please check out the Chambers Student Guide website.

Thanks go to the Jones Day Trainee Recruitment/Development team in London. If you are interested in a career with this top flight law firm, please apply via their  Jones Day programme web page.


Written by:

Joe Beet – OULS News Reporter

Joe Beet


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