Getting Your Foot in the Door with First-Year Insight Schemes: A Scottish LLB Student's Perspective
Some of you may or may not know that as well as vacation schemes, many law firms also host insight schemes for first-year law students. These are a fantastic opportunity to go and see a Firm in action before applying for a vacation scheme or training contract – think ‘try before you buy.’ Usually, first year schemes can range from a single day to an entire week of experience with a Firm, where you can network with trainees, associates, partners, and graduate recruitment, as well as other students in a similar position to yourself. You may also take part in samples of work that the Firm do, group tasks such as presentations or simulations, workshops where you learn about the Firm, or perhaps even skills workshops with Graduate Recruitment – the possibilities are endless.
I was lucky enough to join three very different Firms in the 2021/22 cycle for their first-year programmes, and I am going to summarise my experience from the application process right through to attending, as well as a round-up of what I took away and how I developed myself professionally as a result. I will not go into depth so much about the Firms, but more about what core skills I utilised and how I emphasised them to be successful.
I’ll add an important detail before I go on with the rest of my post: first-year schemes are NOT ONLY ELIGIBLE TO FIRST YEAR LAW STUDENTS STUDYING A THREE-YEAR COURSE. I was in my second year of my law degree when I took part in them, because I am enrolled on a four-year degree – which is the norm in Scotland, where I live and study. Likewise, if you study a non-law degree, many firms also accept applications for these schemes if you are in your second/penultimate year of study, depending on the length of your degree (three or four years).
The Application Process
Firms have different application processes - some more rigorous than others.
Your application for every Firm will differ depending on the questions and requirements they have. Some Firms may ask for you to fill out all your academic records, personal information, and experiences from scratch, however others may seek a CV, so I would suggest always having an up-to-date CV to hand. If you are in first year of a third-year degree and have not received any university results yet do not worry – the Firm will understand this. You do not want to panic when it is the midst of application season and an out-of-date CV becomes another stress in addition to university work and other commitments, causing you more work than necessary. No matter what stage you are at, get all the education/grades, work experience, volunteering, etc. that you have on there. All experience is good experience.
Application questions can vary widely but are usually centred around your motivation for wanting to become a commercial lawyer, your commercial awareness knowledge, or why you are interested in a Firm specifically. I personally found that having a look on the Firm website, their social media pages, and websites such as Chambers Student to learn more
about the Firm and their values, as well as reading the news/listening to podcasts to develop a sound foundational understanding of what’s going on in the business world and what may be on Firms’ minds at present will stand you in good stead when answering
questions such as: ‘Talk about a business issue that has caught your attention recently?’.
First year insight scheme applications will never look for as much depth as vacation scheme or training contract applications because you are at an early stage of your university education and will not be expected to have as extensive knowledge of the legal or business sphere quite yet. However, it will pay off if you’ve made the effort to do your research.
Following an initial application, you may encounter a psychometric test such as the Watson Glaser, a phone/video/face-to-face interview, and sometimes even an assessment centre, before being offered a place. It can be difficult to grasp what a law firm is specifically looking for from you at every stage, as there is often very vague support and guidance on the Firm’s website. A Firm is ultimately looking for you to rely on your own interpretation when answering application questions and to use your initiative to prepare for interviews.
Watson Glaser tests, on the other hand, require no initiative at all, rather simple, logical thinking. Watson Glaser tests usually include evaluation of arguments, deductions, and assumptions, and inferences. Some Firms offer practice Watson Glaser’s on their websites – I know that Clifford Chance and Freshfields’ graduate careers sites do, or you can Google ‘Practice Watson Glaser’ and find hundreds available online. I personally found assessmentday.co.uk most useful, as they had tests for each section, as well as a full one comprising every section. University careers services can also sometimes provide practice ones if you reach out to them, or if you are a Candidate for the likes of Rare Recruitment, they can also usually provide them upon request. Or, if you know anyone who has been through the process before, ask them for tips.
The best piece of advice I have for interviews is to have 4 or 5 scenarios in mind where you utilised a skill (or multiple skills) that interviewers will be looking for. For example, if you’ve had a part-time job and worked as part of a team, did you solve a problem? Did you have to communicate with a variety of different people with confidence? Did you ever implement a
strategy (however minor) that boosted the efficiency of your workplace? A practical example I used was that whilst I worked as a waitress, I often came across challenges such as responding to customer complaints or ensuring that tables were allocated properly and coordinated throughout service when the restaurant was fully booked. Any experiences you’ve had are totally valid. Think of a memorable time, what you had to do, the skill(s) that came into play, and what the outcome was. To remember this easier, think STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result.
You may also be asked some questions about what interests you in the Firm, or perhaps any work they have done that has caught your eye. Approach this as you would the application questions – do your research on the Firm website and other sources and find a case (or two) they have worked on that genuinely interested you. Don’t get hung up on learning about and reciting the fine details about a case to an interviewer – outline the case; WHY it interested you, WHAT you thought of the Firm’s approach, HOW the application of the law to the case was interesting, etc. You will not be expected to fully understand how cases and Firm strategies/approaches work but reading the news and improving your business sense (commercial awareness) will really help you to understand how firms help their clients and what they might expect of you were you to work for them in the future.
Attending a Firm’s Insight Scheme: What to Expect
If you’ve made it to the stage where you have been offered a place on a firm’s insight scheme, Congratulations! But what now?
In the run-up to an insight scheme, you will most likely be quite nervous – this may be your first experience going into a law firm and doing some work experience. This is completely normal! I will go over some guidance as to what to expect that will hopefully help you to form a better idea of what to expect.
First and foremost, make sure that you check your emails for any communication from the firm. This is of paramount importance, as you do not want to miss any information regarding your attendance. The firm will likely send a timetable detailing when you would need to be at the office each morning and what activities they have planned, or perhaps ask you to bring your laptop, or if you are travelling to get to your insight scheme, you might also be offered help with booking this. The main thing is that you stay on top of emails and respond if asked for further information.
Everyone has differing preferences when it comes to networking prior to an insight scheme, however it can be helpful to utilise platforms such as LinkedIn or The Corporate Law Academy forum to connect with other people who are attending. I found it very helpful to talk to others on the schemes prior to attending simply to put me at ease – if you are feeling a bit anxious or unsure, the chances are that other people will be too! Of course, this is not by any means something that you must do, so do not worry if you would rather just show up on your first day and start meeting people when you arrive.
Adding to the networking note, whilst you are at a Firm, try to get to know your peers. These are people you could potentially be working with in a few years’ time. In addition, it can be really nice to keep up with people who will likely share similar experiences as you down the line throughout university and when you start your career, as you can support each other. If you make the effort to build strong foundations with people, it will pay off when you know a familiar face at a vacation scheme/when starting your TC/at an event on a rooftop somewhere! You do not have to become best friends with people, but adding them on social media (LinkedIn, for example) can help you to keep up with each other as you progress.
On a general level, all the firms I attended gave me the impression that they wanted well rounded, knowledgeable, and ambitious people. This does not mean that you must be top of your class in university. What will really make you stand out is showcasing your best skills and qualities throughout the time you spend at a firm. Think about what you are really good at: Are you a natural born communicator? Do you have an excellent eye for detail? Can you assume a leadership position and organise efficiently? One thing I think a lot of people get too caught up on is highlighting their academic ability above all else. What else can you do apart from get good grades that really shows you can handle the challenges of being a modern lawyer? It is also important to remember that legal professionals are also much more than just that, too: they are duly business advisors who must understand the needs of
their clients based on external factors such as politics, the economy, technology, and the environment. Hence demonstrating transferable skills is very important!
To round off, showing up on time, asking questions, networking with other attendees, showing initiative in tasks – remember that how you present yourself to grad recruitment will make an impression, most importantly enjoy, make friends, and ask all the questions that you can to gain a better picture of the firm to allow you to evaluate whether you think it is right for you.
I hope that you find this post useful and if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin or Instagram @lucyyb_law.
By Lucy Burnett
Third Year LLB Law Student at Aberdeen University
The Scottish Lawyer has created a FREE templates especially geared towards LLB law students to assist you with drafting case notes/briefings and note taking in tutorials - click here to access the materials via our website and download your own templates now.
You can find more information about studying the LLB in Scotland and the routes to becoming a qualified solicitor on the Law Society of Scotland's website.
Views expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Scottish Lawyer.