Three LfA mentors have very kindly agreed to share their experiences of attending vac schemes, as well as their tips for making the most of the vac scheme and preparing for the end-of-scheme assessment. The LfA mentors attended three different schemes at three different firms: Sanjana Ganesh attended Lathan & Watkins’ spring vac scheme, Zain Arif attended Clifford Chance’s Spark Scheme, and Juhwan Sohn attended Hogan Lovells’ Covid-19-replacement summer scheme. All three vac-schemers did non-law undergraduate degrees. Due to the nature of Hogan Lovells’ Covid-19-replacement summer scheme, and because the firm has changed their scheme for this summer, this article will mainly focus on Latham & Watkins’ and Clifford Chance’s vac schemes, but provide some information about Hogan Lovells’ 2020 vac scheme at the end.
What happened on a day-to-day basis on the vac scheme?
Latham & Watkins
I spent two weeks at the firm; I requested to sit in Corporate (M&A) and Competition Litigation because I wanted to gain a broad experience. I was supervised by an associate in each department and assisted them with their work, e.g. proofreading a prospectus for listing, conducting research for a cartel investigation, and taking notes in conference calls. The work was definitely challenging but it was rewarding to know that my supervisors entrusted me with these tasks. I also had to complete written tasks set by my supervisors related to the departments I sat in. I enjoyed these tasks as the style of writing was far more ‘commercial’ than the ‘academic’ style I was used to on my course at UCL. Part of the assessment process was a group exercise; I was in a group with three other vac schemers and we had to present on a recent deal to members of the recruiting committee. This was where strong teamwork and communication skills were necessary. The rest of the scheme included attending practice group talks over lunch from different associates and partners, affinity group (like uni societies) talks, and catch ups with my trainee buddy. There were of course a lot of fun socials as well, such as crazy golf and a dinner at the Shard (which may have turned into an impromptu night out with the trainees…).
During the first couple of days, there were presentations from partners in most of the major practice areas during the day, as well as networking lunches and evenings with associates, trainees and partners we met earlier in the day. There was also a client session where (I think) Morgan Stanley came in and did a presentation about working in-house. Days three and four consisted of work shadowing – I think we got a list of 10 or so options, we chose our top three preferences and got allocated two. I did Banking and Finance and Structured Debt. I didn't have to do too much work and what I did wasn't too challenging; instead, it was more just an opportunity to get to know the associate we were shadowing and ask a ton of questions! They tend to introduce us to everyone on the floor, including the partners. On days four to five they took us to Brussels and showed us the Brussels office, put us in a really nice hotel and took us out for a meal. Law and non-Law were mixed, probably a 60:40 split Law: Non-law.
Did you have an interview for a training contract (TC) at the end of the vac scheme? If so, how did you find it? Do you have any TC interview preparation tips?
Latham & Watkins
I had an interview with two partners on the penultimate day of the vac scheme. By that point I felt quite comfortable at Latham and far less nervous than I was on the first day, so I actually really enjoyed the interview. It was relaxed and conversational and was really just a chat about my time on the vac scheme.
My tips for preparing for your final TC interview would be to get a notebook and write down everything you do, however small, and keep records of your work (first ask your supervisor if you are allowed, in case the work is sensitive). Write down the names of absolutely everyone you meet on the scheme, perhaps at the back of the notebook, because you will forget. Before the interview, your supervisor will usually give you the morning off so take that time to review your notes and written work, reflect on everything you have done on the scheme and how the scheme has ultimately informed your decision on whether law is the career for you and whether you see yourself at the firm. Read over your vac scheme application and use your experience on the scheme to add more detail to your ‘why law’ and ‘why this firm’ answers. I would also make sure you keep up to date with the news and commercial awareness during the scheme as well. I personally used to listen to Wake Up to Money on BBC Radio 5 Live every morning right up until the interview. While commercial awareness did not come up in my interview, it did in other vac schemers’ interviews so you should still prepare for such questions. The nature of the interview is really up to the partner interviewing you and it could go in any direction.
I got an email after the scheme regarding my TC interview. The scheme finished in June and my interview was in September. This interview was a lot easier than the one to get on the scheme, and it was just 20 mins.
Come in prepared with answers to questions such as: what you learnt from the scheme, what skills did you gained, whether there was anything you did or didn't expect, and why the firm (again).
What did you get out of the vac scheme? What did you learn?
Latham & Watkins
A job! Luckily the vac scheme ended on a very positive note for me – a TC to commence in August 2021. As cliché as it sounds, I learnt a lot about myself and what I want in a career. I enjoyed the corporate environment, the nature of the work (I particularly enjoy research and writing), and the people I met at Latham. The scheme debunked all the negative stereotypes of US law firms. There is no denying that it is a difficult job and requires hard work, but the scheme showed me that having a strong support network at work is invaluable and makes a huge difference to your enjoyment of the job and overall mental health.
The scheme also gave me a lot of confidence as the application cycle can be quite demoralising at times and I found it difficult to stay motivated and there was a lot of self-doubt along the way. My positive experience on the scheme confirmed that hard work pays off and it was very rewarding after two gruelling application cycles. It also showed me that a rejection from one firm can actually be a good thing (although it may not feel like it at the time) because you are one step closer to finding the right firm for you.
Going into the scheme, I wasn't fully convinced law was for me. I really enjoyed the case studies and examples worked on in sessions over the week, and by the end of the week (and by the time I got the call for a TC interview), I really liked the firm and the idea of life as a lawyer.
By doing the scheme, your commercial awareness obviously goes through the roof. I hate networking, but by the end of a week of networking I learnt how to survive networking sessions! It was also great to meet like-minded ambitious people from other unis.
If you had one piece of advice for someone undertaking a vac scheme (i.e. someone who has already been accepted for one), what would it be?
Latham & Watkins
Don’t forget about your degree! Even if you get the TC offer, you still need to get a 2:1 in your course. If you are doing a Spring or Winter vac scheme, make sure you balance your time well and consider asking for extenuating circumstances for any upcoming deadlines if your department permits (or you may end up having to pull an all-nighter in the Student Centre to finish your dissertation, not that I ever did that…).
Be curious, think critically and ask loads of questions, even if you think they are silly. They don't expect you to know everything. They just want to see you're curious, interested and engaged.
My ‘vac scheme’ experience was an unusual one. When lockdown started in March, Hogan Lovells decided to cancel their formal vac scheme but to give some people direct TC offers on the basis of their performance at assessment centre. Then they decided to put on a three-week online programme for TC offer holders to find out more about the firm in August, which I took part in. It was not like a standard vac scheme and I was not set any work or assessed in any way.
The program was designed to provide more information about Hogan Lovells as a firm, their key practice areas, key client work, and what to expect from their TC. The talks included presentations on specific practice areas like Corporate & Commercial Regulatory, Business Restructuring & Insolvency, and Corporate Litigation, Fraud and Investigations. These were delivered by partners and associates, and we had lots of opportunities to ask them questions during the presentations. There were also sessions from the trainee development team, a diversity panel discussion, and a talk on Hogan Lovells' response to COVID-19 among others. We were given trainee buddies and were encouraged to reach out to them to learn more about the firm from a trainee's perspective.
Good luck to everybody due to attend a vac scheme - hopefully this information is helpful!