Written by Edgar Lee

It is often said that a “vacation scheme is a weeks-long interview.” Well what the heck does that mean? Perhaps it comes down to two things, which this article will suggest eight ways of illustrating.

First, demonstrate that you are teachable—at this stage in our careers we honestly don’t know much. Second, show that it will be a pleasure to work with you in the future—this doesn’t mean that you have to push yourself to be as extroverted as a daytime talk show host, if that is not your natural disposition, because a law firm is really not The Ellen Show (although they do have some freebies).

Being the best version of yourself is the only thing you should do, because an act could become apparent quite quickly over the course of several weeks.

1. Give Yourself Context – Learn about the Firm and the Seats You Will Be in

To ensure that you have some awareness of the things going on around you, it will be helpful to do some reading on the firm and the seats you will be in. Practical questions such as “Which country is the firm’s head office? Who is the managing partner?” will help you set the scene, and questions like “What does M&A stand for, what is so private about private equity?” should really be reserved for your trusty pal Google.

If something strikes you during your research, note it down and ask someone at the firm for their opinion. For example, does the geographical location of the head office affect the flow of work through the office you are applying to work in?

When you are with the firm, a glance through the organizational hierarchy will be helpful to get a sense of who does what, and can avoid embarrassing moments with key figures.

2. Arrive on Time

This goes without saying. Can you imagine sharing an office with someone who starts every single morning with a groan, and the phrase “oh wow the traffic this morning”? Can your supervisor?

3. Look the Part – Observe the Dress Code

It will be helpful to ask HR, or a trainee-buddy that may be assigned to you, what the dress code of the firm is. This is more for you, than it is for the firm. If you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, it will affect your confidence.

4. Ask For Work – but Remember When to Say No

The best way to show your supervisor that you will be good to work with in the future is by demonstrating this in your work. But if work does not come to you, you should not be shy to ask your supervisor, or with their permission, other associates in your department. However taking on more than you can handle will look like poor time-management.

If you have had prior office work experience, you could let them the associate know, which may help them figure out what you could work on.

5. Ask to Clarify 

There may be some technical language in an instruction that you may not understand: meeting minutes are not really about keeping time; the constitution they refer to in corporate law is unlikely to be the same as in Tripos Part IA.

You should clarify any doubts you have with the associate before starting on the assignment, or compile a list of queries at settle them together. A tickle feed of individual questions is unlikely to be appreciated.

It may also be helpful for you to gain context by asking the associates why they need you to do something. 

6. Note Everything Down

Note everything down. Every instruction, every talk you attend, your reflections after every coffee session with someone at the firm. It may be useful to refer to these notes when preparing for the final interview.

7. Attention to Detail

Simple things like spelling the associate’s name right, using the correct font, proofreading, go a long way as indicators of how good a worker you will be. Don’t worry too much about a missing comma once in a while, it will not be decisive. But I’ll let you decide if consistently spelling “Rachael” as “Rachel” is.

8. Attend Socials 

You should join the socials that the firm has organized, if possible. The socials organized by CULS in Michaelmas may differ from those you will attend on your vacation scheme because their purposes are quite different.

The former may seem more intimidating because it is largely an information session, and so you may feel that asking questions is expected of you. However, firm socials are more about showing you what being at the firm is like, and for the firm to assess if you know how to take some down-time. This means having some fun is in order, and it is not necessary to feel that you have to ‘talk shop’ for the duration of the event—although if you have genuine questions, the social is a great informal way to clear them. But otherwise, it is completely fine to show people that you have a legit personality.