For first year law students, however, ‘grabbing opportunities’ takes on another dimension. Indeed, with the recent changes to the traditional route to a training contract – meaning that second year law students can apply directly for training contracts as early as October in some firms – getting your ‘foot in the door’ in first year is becoming more important than ever.
Ordinarily, students would apply for a ‘vacation scheme’ in second year; giving a taster of life at a law firm, with a training contract interview at the end. Yet law firms are increasingly looking to recruit earlier and earlier, and have therefore introduced mini versions of vac schemes: in the form of insight days, mini-vacation schemes and other programmes. Around Christmas time last year, I applied for the second year of ‘A&O First’ – and was consequently selected as one of 60 students to attend a day at Allen & Overy, a magic circle law firm.
The day was a wonderful opportunity to meet other students like myself, to create a relationship with the firm, and to experience a little bit of life at one of the world’s biggest firms. We were each assigned a trainee buddy, with whom we were welcome to correspond. We were thrown into a ‘negotiation competition’ – where we each represented a side of a deal, expected to come out with the best result for your side.
This is effectively the closest that a law student can get to real, practical law. Presentations on commercial awareness, the anatomy of a transaction alongside drinks and lunch made for a very pleasant and welcoming experience. The firm don’t just lose links with you – A&O First invites all its participants back to the office a couple more times, create Facebook groups, and give you a ‘no holds barred’ access to graduate recruitment.
First year schemes are just one of the ways that you can create a rapport with a law firm: another way is to apply to be a ‘Campus Ambassador.’ This effectively means that you are the face of the law firm on campus! It is your job to be the point of contact for any students looking to apply, and many firms offer financial reward for this. I currently represent Shearman & Sterling, a US firm, and my training day involved being educated on all things Shearman & Sterling, getting to know the fellow Campus Ambassadors, and, of course, leaving with a beautiful hoodie. Because why else would we all do law, other than for the freebies?
Networking events, such as Bright Network (both the Festival and Future Lawyers Top 100) are also useful, as well as firm presentations on campus. If you can make contacts, even better!
The fact that these opportunities exist does not mean that one should do all of them. The applications are time consuming, and the actual schemes often take place during holidays.
However, to be in with a fighting chance for one of those ‘gold dust’ training contracts, they really help to gain a more wholesome awareness of what commercial law really involves – as well as helping you decide what kind of law firm you want to work at! Big, small, boutique, American, international – firms come in all different forms, and you certainly don’t want to be making the wrong decision! In any case, the schemes are genuinely enjoyable, and you meet lovely people who are, unsurprisingly, very similar to yourself.
First year for law students is a whole different ball game – so catch it, while it’s there!
Sophie Landau is a second-year law student at the University of Bristol