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How to survive a winter vac scheme

Winter work experience is getting more popular. The smaller size of the student intake on winter vac scheme gives them a more intimate feel than the summer ones, so say veterans of both. Further, 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.

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

FLN provides some tips to the lucky students who have secured places.

1. Give yourself a pat on the back

Just by being there you have 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.

2. Find a couch to stay on

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

Writing on Legal Cheek recently, a trainee who was fortunate enough to stay with a friend during his vac scheme reported making "a slight profit". Without this option, though, he suggested he "would have made a significant loss on the whole experience". Those without friends in London should consider staying in a youth hostel, where winter rates can be as low as £9 per night.

3. 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 of 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.” he says.

4. 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 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.

5. Enjoy the perks

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

6. 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 the majority of big firms (including the ones which run winter vac schemes as well) 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.