Students face heavy competition for vacation places as firms slash schemes

Despite many law firms becoming more optimistic about the end of the ­recession, would-be lawyers looking to secure a vacation scheme in 2010 will be ­facing a tougher battle as firms reduce their placement numbers.

Clare Harris

Clare Harris

Earlier this year many law firms announced that they would be scrapping several of their planned vacation schemes in reaction to the raft of deferrals they made to help stave off the credit crunch.

Eversheds and Field ­Fisher Waterhouse were among the first City firms to cancel all of their summer vacation schemes and close their graduate recruitment ­programmes until 2010 after asking their trainees to defer their start dates.

Allen & Overy (A&O) also closed its Easter ­vacation scheme for 2009 due to lack of interest from ­students. At the time the firm claimed that more students had been applying to its summer
and winter programmes, ­making its 10-day Easter scheme redundant.

Elsewhere, Halliwells scaled back its ­summer placement from three two week-long ­programmes in Liverpool, London and Manchester to just two in each City.

Charles Russell, meanwhile, cut its two-week ­summer programme in half in a bid to control running costs.

To make matters worse, 2010 looks increasingly bleak for those wishing to secure vacation schemes.

Lovells has made the biggest cuts, scrapping next year’s Christmas and Easter schemes. Last year the firm ran two schemes in the ­summer, lasting three weeks each for 30 candidates, and one at Easter lasting two weeks for 30 students. ­Historically, Lovells also ran a 30-place, two-week ­Christmas scheme.

But for 2010 the firm will now only be running two three-week schemes over the summer for 50 ­candidates and has replaced its usual Christmas and Easter placements with a series of insight and work-shadowing days.

Lovells denies the cuts have been part of a wider cost-cutting exercise but are instead a reaction to student feedback requesting more flexibility.

“Those participating in the insight and work-­shadowing days will have an opportunity to undertake case studies and workshops as well as spending a day in one of the business groups shadowing a trainee ­solicitor,” explains associate director of legal resourcing ­Clare Harris.

She insists the new model works better in the current highly competitive recruitment climate because it allows a higher turnover of students to visit the firm.

“These events will not only create opportunities for more people to visit the firm, they will also provide a cost-effective method of giving students access to the ­business,” says Harris.

The news comes after Lovells contacted its autumn 2009, spring 2010 and autumn 2010 intakes and offered them a £5,000 cash payment to delay their start dates by 12 months, and £2,500 to defer for six months.

Lovells is not alone, ­however. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has scrapped its usual three-week Easter placement for 20 candidates and will instead only run its usual three lots of three week-long summer schemes in 2010.

Freshfields UK trainee recruitment head Deborah Dalgleish denies that the move is a cost-cutting ­exercise but is simply down to the fact that the Easter scheme was the “least ­popular” placement.

“I don’t know why but universities all seem to be having their Easter holidays at different times this year and we found it incredibly difficult to find a single three-week slot where every university could take part,” Dalgleish reveals. “Also we’ve found that with summer exams and things, the Easter scheme is the least popular with students.”

A&O has kept its Easter scheme on hold for 2010 after axing it earlier this year, while CMS Cameron McKenna will no longer be running its two-week Christmas ­programme.

But students will not only see a reduction in vacation schemes to choose from, they will also see programme numbers fall, resulting in heightened competition for placements.
Pinsent Masons will be cutting its summer intake by 33 per cent, from 150 to 100 candidates.

But what of the reaction on campus? Warwick ­University student Chrissy Vassiliou says securing a training contract is hard enough without law firms axing one of their main recruiting pools.
“There are a lot more ­students wanting to go into law and securing a vacation scheme is one of the most important things to get under your belt at ­university,” she argues. “But with vacation schemes being cut like this, there’ll be a lot of students rethinking whether law is really the career for them.”