First-year events: who does what?

Law students wanting to pursue a career in corporate law soon learn that the earlier they engage with firms, the better their chance of gaining a place on prized vacation schemes – and eventually training contracts.

Recently, more and more firms have launched work experience schemes targeted solely at first-year students. While this represents a great opportunity for students, we understand entirely if your first reaction is to stifle a groan.

Vacation schemes are usually aimed at second-year law students and final year non-law students. They used to be relatively informal and easy to get onto until recruiters realised that the vac schemes could feed more directly into their trainee recruitment.

Now, it is about as difficult to get onto a vacation scheme as it is to bag a training contract, and if students do manage to get a place on one, they face tests and assessments and are acutely aware that they need to impress.

So are first-year schemes just the next hurdle in the great training contract race? Or do they genuinely help students experience the corporate world without feeling at pains to impress their hosts?

“First years often ask to come on our vac schemes,” says Herbert Smith Freehills graduate recruitment manager Carly Gilberg. “So we decided that we should have an event for them. We don’t test them in the same way we would vacation scheme students. Instead, the primary objective is to inform them and allow them to get some experience.”

“It’s about education,” agrees Shearman & Sterling graduate recruitment graduate recruitment adviser Katie Meer. “Higher fees have brought a stronger emphasis on employability skills. Also, law is technically a vocational degree but it can actually be very hard to figure out what to do with it.

“Those are the benefits for them. The benefit for us is that it gets our branding out there. If students have heard of us early on, then that’s good for us.”

So far, so casual. Presumably however, it is also beneficial for students to have been in contact with firms so early.

“We do not fill all our places for the three-week vac schemes with those who took part in first-year schemes,” Hogan Lovells associate director of legal resourcing Clare Harris says. “So there is still plenty of opportunity for others who have not undertaken a first year scheme.

“Those that do apply, however, are clearly focused and committed to a longer-term career in commercial law.”

And there’s the catch. As long as first-year events stay small-scale, vacation scheme places will remain for those who have not attended a first-year open day. Should they begin to expand, attending a first-year scheme may turn into another hurdle to jump.

What’s on offer?

For now however, you can breath sigh of relief that attendance is not compulsory and focus on the detail of the different schemes available, which do vary in form. The table below shows the various schemes run by the large UK and US headquartered firms, which vary in length from one day to one week.

Most schemes focus on a broad introduction to the world of corporate law and the City, using a one-day format filled with presentations, workshops and the odd networking session.

Firms tend to take a very wide-ranging approach, telling students about the barrister and solicitor professions and looking at different types of law firm.

“We assume it’s not just one option for them so we give a very wide introduction to the firms out there,” says Meer. “We are not biased – we advise them to look into lots of different firms.

We explain the intake size, footprint and training approaches of different types of firm and have a trainee tasks workshop to show them the sorts of work they would do on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s expected and how to impress

Firms are very aware that first year students are not the finished article, and do not expect you to be trotting out perfect answers to questions on how the latest Eurozone crisis might affect X, Y and Z markets. What they do expect is curiosity and an eagerness to learn.

“I am not expecting people to be polished in the first year,” says Dentons HR officer Alex Mundy. “But I expect them to research us, be enthusiastic to learn more and want them to ask lots of questions.”

“Really showing an interest and getting the basics right are the most important things,” concurs Gilberg. “Being on time, being respectful, paying attention, asking lots of questions and making most of opportunity.”

“We don’t expect them to be finished article but obviously you can make a positive or negative impression in general behaviour very quickly.” 

First-year opportunities

Firm Name of scheme Length When it runs Compensation? When to apply Format
Addleshaw Goddard First year open day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses In December Meet partners, trainees, graduate reruitment
Allen & Overy A&O First Ongoing, 2 days in office Ongoing Would not disclose January and February 1-day insight day (work shadowing, commercial awareness presentations, networking, negotiation coaching, office tour), 1-day office visit (trainee buddy catch-up, business challenge game, networking), ongoing online support (webinars, trainee buddy etc)
Baker & McKenzie First year programme 2 days August Reasonable travel expenses and accommodation February Interactive workshops, shadowing, networking, one-to-one sessions with grad rec team
Berwin Leighton Paisner Insight scheme 3 days March and April Pay not disclosed January Talks, workshops, work shadowing
Berwin Leighton Paisner Introduction to Law day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses February and March Talks, workshops
Bird & Bird Insight evening 1 evening December Would not disclose Would not disclose Would not disclose
Bristows Open day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses Before 21 Feb Workshops on trainee task & application process, networking lunch
Burges Salmon First year insight day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses October Practice area talks, group exercises, workshops on successful applications, networking lunch
Clifford Chance Springboard 1 week March/April £350 October to December Work shadowing, case studies, seminars
Clifford Chance Open days 1 day October, November, March, May Reasonable travel expenses and accommodation if travelling far October to April Interactive area case study, trainee networking, interviewing & application workshops
Clyde & Co Insight work experience 1 week Would not disclose Would not disclose Would not disclose Would not disclose
Dentons Open day 1 day April Travel expenses up to £100 October to February Introduction to commercial law & firm, interactive workshops
DLA Piper Insight days 1 day March Reasonable travel expenses Before 23 Feb Trainee, associate, partner and graduate recruitment networking. Different areas of law, developing commercial awareness, making successful applications
Freshfields First year focus programme 1 day x2 March Reasonable travel expenses October to February Skills-focused training
Herbert Smith Freehills Open days 2 days March and April Accomodation is provided January You’ll hear from leading lawyers, interactive projects, trainee shadowing, evening social event
Hogan Lovells First year law open days 1 day March and July Reasonable travel expenses October workshops, advice sessions , networking
Hogan Lovells Spring vacation scheme 1 week April £150 October Workshops, case studies, work shadowing
King & Wood Mallesons Open day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses March Workshops and presentations
Linklaters Pathfinder 2 days April Travel expenses (2 nights accommodation if far) January and February Teamworking and networking workshops, recruitment hints and tips, evening social event, work shadowing, ‘personal impact masterclass’
Macfarlanes First year insight day 1 day April Reasonable travel expenses February Negotiation exercise, talk with senior partner, application skills session, work shadowing
Mayer Brown Open day 1 day December and January Reasonable travel expenses   Partner presentations, networking lunch, commercial awareness session, recruitment hints and tips
Norton Rose Fulbright Open day 1 day May and June Reasonable travel expenses March and April Partner talk, application and interview advice from recruitment team, trainee and associate networking, office tour, skills workshops
Osborne Clarke Insight scheme 2 days March Reasonable travel expenses November to February Work shadowing and contact with trainees, partners and recruitment team
Reed Smith Open day 1 day March Reasonable travel expenses Before 16 February  
Shearman & Sterling Head Start 1 day March Reasonable travel expenses Before mid-January Networking with partners, trainees & associates, insight into the work of a trainee at an international firm, overview of a deal, recruitment hints & tips, how to sell yourself by identifying your own brand
Simmons & Simmons Legal Ladder 2 days April   January Workshops on key skills and commercial knowledge
Slaughter and May First year open day 1 day March Reasonable travel expenses January Insight into the work of a trainee, workshops on applications, interviews & commercial awareness
Weil Gotshal & Manges First-year fast track scheme 1 week April Reasonable travel expenses Before mid-February Mini-vac scheme sharing office with associate, potential to be fast-tracked to full vac scheme
White & Case Open day 1 day May Reasonable travel expenses Before April 30 Networking and negotiation exercise
Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co Open day 1 day March Reasonable travel expenses TBC Skills workshops, networking and presentations

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