Our Guide to Vacation Schemes

Everything you need to know about vacation schemes; including expert career advice, application deadlines and an insight into the UK law industry.

If you’re studying law or looking to become a lawyer, you’ll probably have heard of vacation schemes. They’re one of the most important steps towards a legal career.

You might, however, not know exactly what it entails... a bit like when you laugh along with a Better Call Saul reference your friends use because you don’t want to ask what it means.

Fear not! In this article, we outline everything you need to know about vacation schemes; including why you should do one, application tips and the Best Student Employers to work for.

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What is a vacation scheme?

Vacation schemes are short periods of work experience offered by top law firms during the Easter, summer AND Christmas holidays.

They can last anywhere between one week and one month, and are usually open to law and non-law students in their penultimate or final year of university.

If you’re a first year student, keep an eye out for insight days and open days for the chance to meet partners, trainees and the grad recruitment team before applying for a vacation scheme.

With 20-30,000 students applying to study law each year, competition for jobs can be pretty savage. So it’s crucial to get some solid work experience on your CV before graduating.

What happens on a vacation scheme?

The best vacation schemes give you a front row seat to everyday life in a law firm, getting you involved in ongoing cases as well as regular social engagements.

Working alongside trainees, partners and associates, you’ll be given real tasks that contribute to the business; from carrying out legal research to attending court. As such, you can also expect to be paid a competitive salary.

Vacation schemes are an absolute must for any aspiring lawyer. Firms use these schemes to assess potential candidates for their training contracts*, with some even guaranteeing an interview at the end of the scheme.

"We only recruit trainees from our vacation schemes. This is because a vacation scheme enables you to build stronger connections with our team and hit the ground running when you start your career." Herbert Smith Freehills Vacation Scheme

*A training contract refers to the two-year training period undertaken before you can become a fully-fledged lawyer. It’s the final step before qualifying as a solicitor.

A vacation scheme prepares you for this in more ways than one. Scroll down to find out how...

Why should I do a vacation scheme?

Here are just a few of the many advantages to fitting a vacation scheme or two (or three) in between semesters...

  • Get a taster of what it’s like to be a lawyer, as well as life in a law firm.

  • Find out what cases really involve and carry out real tasks to develop your skills.

  • Impress prospective employers by sticking it on your CV or LinkedIn.

Vacation schemes also offer an unparalleled opportunity to grow your network. The legal sector is competitive, not least because it pays well - the average salary for a qualified solicitor sits at £62,000 a year. So the more connections you have, the better your chance of breaking in.

Ultimately, a vacation scheme is your chance to see if a career in law is really for you. As a law student, you by no means have to go into the industry. The degree comes with a bunch of transferable skills that you can bring to other industries. Doing a non-law degree? Read on.


Do you need to be a law student to take a vacation scheme?

Nope! Law vacation schemes are open to both law and non-law students.

As a non-law student, however, you may have to work harder to show that you have relevant experience. More importantly, you’ll need to prove your passion for the industry.

Are you passionate about enacting justice? An analytical thinker? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to channel your inner Elle from Legally Blonde? Pinpoint whatever it is that will make a compelling cover letter for your application.

The great news is that while some firms will only cover expenses (e.g. lunch and travel), most will offer compensation on top. Vacation schemes that last a week or longer are typically paid.

The amount you get paid will depend on the type of firm you work at, and its location. Large US firms, for instance, are likely to dish out heftier paychecks than the smaller regional firms.

But with companies like Allen & Overy and Linklaters offering £450 a week, you could be lucky enough to save some moolah whilst gaining that all-important experience.

Get the full lowdown on all things law in our no-nonsense guide to Law Internships.

Best Student Employers in Law

Each year we release a list of the Best 100 Student Employers to work for in the UK, and the current frontrunners for legal vacation schemes are:

Whilst most regional firms offer vacation schemes, 48% of insight schemes are located within central London. (Based on reviews submitted to RateMyPlacement.co.uk.)

Here are a couple of the best student employers who run their vacation schemes in London...

Allen & Overy vacation scheme

Duration: One week
For: Penultimate and final year students

Allen and Overy run both summer and winter vacation schemes for all students interested in law, regardless of what degree they do.

You’ll work on live deals and cases with experienced lawyers, developing the key skills to become a successful international commercial lawyer.

Allen and Overy hosted one of our live virtual events, which you can relive below. Watch for exclusive application advice from successful candidates.

Search Allen & Overy vacation schemes

Herbert Smith Freehills vacation scheme

Duration: One week
For: Penultimate and final year students

A spring, summer or winter vacation scheme at international firm Herbert and Smith Freehills will guarantee you an interview for their training contract.

Alongside workshops, presentations and networking, their vacation schemes include an exciting opportunity to join a team on a pro bono project.

Apply to Herbert and Smith Freehills

This student rated their vacation scheme with Herbert and Smith Freehills an unbeatable 5 / 5:

"In addition to legal drafting, my work included researching, writing an article, cross-checking documents, taking meeting minutes, contract review, and a variety of other tasks. The insight also included social events, networking opportunities and presentations given by lawyers in the firm on their different practice areas." Herbert and Smith Freehills Vacation Scheme Student

Vacation scheme deadlines

Now that we’ve convinced you of the huge number of benefits of doing a vacation scheme, you’re probably just itching to apply!

Deadlines for winter vacations schemes tend to fall around October, November time, whilst summer vacation schemes usually fill up in January. (Make sure you check each firm’s careers site for specific dates.)

It’s worth applying as soon as you can, and to as many different firms as possible. It’s a competitive process, with top city firm Allen & Overy receiving around 3,000 applications for 60 places. That means one student in every 50 secures a spot!

It’s not all doom and gloom though. As long as you’re committed to the cause and put time in to researching each firm, your application will stand as good a chance as anyone else’s.