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What to do if you missed the vacation scheme deadline

The deadline set by many top law firms for applications to their vacation schemes passed on Friday 31 January. Most students miss the vac scheme deadline because they convince themselves that they are too busy with their university work and extra-curricular commitments. They believe that if they were to submit an application form under these pressures they would fail to do themselves justice. 

By Editorial Team. Published 07 February 2014. Last updated 11 January 2023.

In many ways, being able to juggle several important tasks simultaneously is just as important as possessing excellent technical written and legal skills. Law firms know this – and it's one of the reasons they make their application forms so challenging. Set your standards high, but worry less about perfection.

For those who missed the vac scheme deadline, all is not lost – check out these five steps to redemption…

1. Many law firm vac scheme application deadlines still haven't passed

The good news is that it's not too late to secure a vac scheme place for this year at a host of top firms. Transatlantic giant Hogan Lovells, which offers 90 student work placements a year, remains open for applications for its spring vac scheme until 14 February. Meanwhile, a host a other top firms – including the London offices of big-paying US duo Ropes & Gray and Vinson & Elkins – accept work experience placement applications until 28 February. Other well-known firms to have later application deadlines include Shoosmiths, Weightmans, Trowers & Hamlins, Blake Lapthorn and Penningtons Manches.  A full list is available on LawCareers.Net.

2. The later you leave it the less chance you have

Most students don't realise that leaving it to the last minute to apply for a vac scheme or a training contract can place them at a disadvantage. Law firms typically begin filling vac scheme interview places a couple of weeks before the application deadline arrives, meaning less places are up for grabs the later you apply.

This doesn't mean that firms don't consider late applications made within the deadline – they do – but the practicalities of processing a large number of applications can place those who apply with mere hours to spare at a disadvantage.

It is worth adding that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, in selecting students for its ground-breaking 'CV Blind programme' – in which candidates for vac schemes are assessed solely on the basis of a 500 word essay – magic circle firm Clifford Chance makes a point of only considering applications until after the advertised deadline has passed.

3. Informal legal work experience is valued by big firms

Writing recently on Legal Cheek, Norton Rose Fulbright Graduate Trainee Recruitment Manager Caroline Lindner suggested that students apply not only for vac schemes but also for open days and work experience placements with local solicitors and barristers. In doing so, she recommends that legal hopefuls ‘utilise your university alumni network’. Her words are echoed by other graduate recruiters at top law firms, who each year urge students to keep an open mind about the type of legal work experience they do. The University of Law alumni group can help in terms of securing informal placements with law firms and mini-pupillages with barristers' chambers, with, amongst other things, access to an online database for professional and social networking and invitations to special alumni events across the country.

4. Non-legal work experience can count for a lot

Law students often don't realise the worth of the part-time jobs they have held which have nothing to do with the law. Pinsent Masons Graduate Recruitment Manager Edward Walker explained in a Guardian article that law firms have become slightly tired of CVs featuring a long list of exciting-sounding, yet not especially substantial, jobs, adding that ‘a student working on the checkout at Sainsbury's is more impressive than they often realise.’

In a climate where diversity is being taken more seriously than ever by top law firms, there is also a dawning sense that favouring candidates who have completed vac schemes may indirectly discriminate against students from non-traditional backgrounds. Candidates with no professionals in their family, for example, can be less inclined to follow conventional routes into the profession because they are less aware of them. As such, never have law firms graduate recruitment teams been more receptive to a well-written explanation of what candidates have learned from non-legal work experience.

5. Start thinking about applying for training contracts

The training contract application deadline for most firms is 31 July. But several top outfits follow a different schedule and recruit earlier in the year. These include Simmons & Simmons (31 March), HowardKennedyFsi (23 May) and Kingsley Napley (31 May).
What better way to make up for missing the 31 January vac scheme deadline than to get in there with some early training contract applications?

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