By Alice Ball
Given the recent transition to the ‘virtual world’, it has become evident to students that there has been a significant demise in the number of opportunities available, most notably the number of vacation schemes. Most aspiring solicitors and barristers know that vacation schemes are one of the most beneficial opportunities that a student can participate in and it often leads to training contract offers. Therefore, their cancellation has caused uncertainty amongst students. Legal Cheek chose to try to cover this CV gap by organising a 5-day virtual vacation scheme for anyone to apply for.
I will admit that at first, I was sceptical to apply due to uncertainty as to whether this scheme would actually be valuable or if it would simply be a series of disengaging lectures that bared no resemblance to the image I had in my head of a firm-led vacation scheme taking place at an office. However, I could not have been more wrong. This scheme became one of the most valuable opportunities I have participated in since lockdown began at the beginning of March and I could not recommend it more.
The impact of COVID-19
The scheme was comprised of a multitude of different sessions. From the first session, I already felt that my ‘commercial awareness’ was developing tenfold. The first session focused on the recession instilled as a result of COVID-19. I learnt not only about the current economic environment, but the ways that comparisons can be drawn between both consumer and commercial behaviour now and during the 2008 global financial crisis where the well-known bank Lehman Brothers collapsed. It became clear to me that during times like these the government steps in to try and ‘soften the blow’. In 2008 it was the bailing out of the banks and the introduction of quantitative easing whereas now it is the furlough scheme and the various business grants. Not only do I now have a deeper understanding of the current economic and legal environment, but I feel that I now have a vested interest in following the journey as the world begins to revert to ‘normal’.
Insight into different practice areas
I also had the chance to learn about different areas of law including debt finance law. These sessions were particularly insightful and included talks from specialists in the field. I gained an invaluable insight into what working in each field entails and had the chance to hear professionals answer all of our burning questions. These sessions attempted to mirror the insight that you would gain during a vacation scheme as during this scheme we had the opportunity to connect with lawyers in several different departments and be exposed to the different types of work that solicitors in the field are involved in.
Hot practice areas of 2020 – law firms in the future!
The scheme also involved two sessions discussing the hot practice areas of 2020, these
being identified as counter-cyclical work, the green economy and the use of technology
within the law. These are topics that aspiring solicitors and barristers must be aware of as many of the big news stories will involve these practices. These sessions were some of the most informative during the week-long scheme as they provided me with unique exposure and helped me understand established areas that as a student, I should show particular focus to moving forward. Gaining this insight is something I believe I would not have been able to obtain had the vacation scheme been at a law firm.
Taking care of your self
Additionally, a further opportunity I had during the virtual vacation scheme that I believe I would not have experienced during an in-person vacation scheme was a wellness breakfast delivered by an associate at a law firm. During the session, I learnt how I can use yoga to aid myself in my studies and the importance of relaxing and taking a break – something that is not always appreciated as a student. Sometimes, I find it hard to take a break from my academics as I feel that if I do, I will fall behind everyone else. Therefore, personally, the things I learnt in this session were some of the most valuable during the week.
Finally, during the week we were asked to complete four different case study tasks based around the topics we had learnt about. These tasks went a long way to mirror the type of work that you would be required to complete during a normal vacation scheme to show to your supervisor that you had understood different aspects of the law. Not only did these tasks help me to see the different type of work you would be required to complete as a trainee, but they also helped me to consolidate what I had learnt for the week.
To conclude, whilst we are all faced with uncertainty as a result of the current
circumstances we find ourselves in, it is now more than ever essential that we as students, put ourselves out there and are open to new opportunities. Whilst it could be seen as a disadvantage that these events now occur virtually, I think that the only real disadvantage would be to not participate in them. Many professionals have said that law firms will be keen to learn what applicants did during this period and being able to display that you took part in schemes like this one will resonate highly with recruiters.