First-year events: who does what?

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Law students wanting to pursue a career in corporate law soon learn that the earlier they engage with firms, the better their chance of gaining a place on prized vacation schemes - and eventually training contracts.

Recently, more and more firms have launched work experience schemes targeted solely at first-year students. While this represents a great opportunity for students, we understand entirely if your first reaction is to stifle a groan.

Vacation schemes are usually aimed at second-year law students and final year non-law students. They used to be relatively informal and easy to get onto until recruiters realised that the vac schemes could feed more directly into their trainee recruitment.

Now, it is about as difficult to get onto a vacation scheme as it is to bag a training contract, and if students do manage to get a place on one, they face tests and assessments and are acutely aware that they need to impress.

So are first-year schemes just the next hurdle in the great training contract race? Or do they genuinely help students experience the corporate world without feeling at pains to impress their hosts?

“First years often ask to come on our vac schemes,” says Herbert Smith Freehills graduate recruitment manager Carly Gilberg. “So we decided that we should have an event for them. We don’t test them in the same way we would vacation scheme students. Instead, the primary objective is to inform them and allow them to get some experience.”

“It’s about education,” agrees Shearman & Sterling graduate recruitment graduate recruitment adviser Katie Meer. “Higher fees have brought a stronger emphasis on employability skills. Also, law is technically a vocational degree but it can actually be very hard to figure out what to do with it.

“Those are the benefits for them. The benefit for us is that it gets our branding out there. If students have heard of us early on, then that’s good for us.”

So far, so casual. Presumably however, it is also beneficial for students to have been in contact with firms so early.

“We do not fill all our places for the three-week vac schemes with those who took part in first-year schemes,” Hogan Lovells associate director of legal resourcing Clare Harris says. “So there is still plenty of opportunity for others who have not undertaken a first year scheme.

“Those that do apply, however, are clearly focused and committed to a longer-term career in commercial law.”

And there’s the catch. As long as first-year events stay small-scale, vacation scheme places will remain for those who have not attended a first-year open day. Should they begin to expand, attending a first-year scheme may turn into another hurdle to jump.

What’s on offer?
For now however, you can breath sigh of relief that attendance is not compulsory and focus on the detail of the different schemes available, which do vary in form. The table below shows the various schemes run by the large UK and US headquartered firms, which vary in length from one day to one week.

Most schemes focus on a broad introduction to the world of corporate law and the City, using a one-day format filled with presentations, workshops and the odd networking session.

Firms tend to take a very wide-ranging approach, telling students about the barrister and solicitor professions and looking at different types of law firm.

“We assume it’s not just one option for them so we give a very wide introduction to the firms out there,” says Meer. “We are not biased - we advise them to look into lots of different firms.

We explain the intake size, footprint and training approaches of different types of firm and have a trainee tasks workshop to show them the sorts of work they would do on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s expected and how to impress
Firms are very aware that first year students are not the finished article, and do not expect you to be trotting out perfect answers to questions on how the latest Eurozone crisis might affect X, Y and Z markets. What they do expect is curiosity and an eagerness to learn.

“I am not expecting people to be polished in the first year,” says Dentons HR officer Alex Mundy. “But I expect them to research us, be enthusiastic to learn more and want them to ask lots of questions.”

“Really showing an interest and getting the basics right are the most important things,” concurs Gilberg. “Being on time, being respectful, paying attention, asking lots of questions and making most of opportunity.”

“We don’t expect them to be finished article but obviously you can make a positive or negative impression in general behaviour very quickly.”

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