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How to survive a winter vacation scheme

Winter work experience is becoming more popular. The smaller size of the student intake on winter vac schemes gives them a more intimate feel than those held in summer, so say veterans of both. Furthermore, the type of people you find on them tends to be more mixed, with firms reporting a higher proportion of students who are more advanced in their studies.

By Editorial Team. Published 03 December 2014. Last updated 28 June 2023.

Expect to be mixing with more Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) students, and aspiring lawyers who are studying other postgraduate courses such as Masters degrees and PhDs.

Give yourself a pat on the back

Just by being there, you’ve beaten the odds. There are fewer places compared to summer schemes and so many people apply. Leading firms typically receive around 40 applications for each of the places on offer, which is up to double the ratio of some summer programmes. The upside to this is that students who are selected often have quite a high chance of securing a training contract, with firms sometimes recruiting en masse almost their entire crop of winter vac schemers.

Find a couch to stay on

Firms typically pay vacation schemers between £250-£500 a week, plenty if there are minimal accommodation costs, but more challenging if not.

Talk to people

A frequent observation made by firm graduate recruiters is that students are too shy. So dare to take the initiative and ask a question at a presentation, or strike up a conversation with a solicitor, and you will invariably stand out.

Mayer Brown trainee solicitor, Zsolt Vertessy, recalls his successfully-negotiated vac scheme:

“My seats were in corporate and competition law, but I also wanted to know more about IP, so I chatted informally to a trainee sitting in the IP department. It was just a case of going over to him at an informal drinks event and introducing myself. Vac schemes throw up these sorts of opportunities, and it is worth taking them.”

Go with the flow

December is a busy time in corporate law firms as solicitors rush to complete their clients' deals before the Christmas shutdown. So, you will have to figure out how you can best make yourself useful. This buzz of activity is combined with the Christmas party season, offering up a host of social events. Vac schemers should be careful not to overdo it and never forget that the graduate recruitment team will be watching.

Enjoy the perks

From racing down the Thames in a speedboat (with Freshfields), to going to Paris for the day (with Mayer Brown) or climbing the O2 (with Clifford Chance), vac schemes are well-known for their perks. The winter versions are no exception. Enjoy them and draw confidence from the inclusion of such jollies as evidence firms are keen to impress students as well as vice versa.

Show your enthusiasm

You must remain open and enthusiastic. As well as an opportunity to develop your workplace skills, a vacation scheme can help you establish a few contacts in the company. Work to the best of your ability, support your colleagues, and if you need more work don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Follow up at the end of your scheme

A great way to finish your vacation placement is by thanking the firm and emailing those you worked with. This way, you leave the company with a good impression and may increase your chances of a training contract in the future.

Don't worry if you missed a winter placement

The next big date in any self-respecting wannabe solicitor's diary should be January 31, when most big firms (including the ones which run winter vac schemes too) close applications for their spring and summer vacation programmes. Although beware that a handful of firms position their deadline dates at earlier points during the month. On-the-ball students destined for training contract glory tend to spend the Christmas holidays completing the often quite lengthy application forms, ready to submit early in the New Year. 


Visit this guide to vacation schemes, for more advice and guidance.