In this blog, Sarah Stockley from Vinson & Elkins explains why understanding how a firm structures its programme is an important factor. She started her training contract at Vinson & Elkins in 2006 and then qualified into the Complex Commercial Litigation department in 2008. Sarah was an associate and senior associate until the beginning of 2016, when she transitioned internally to the role of International Talent Manager, which includes graduate recruitment and involvement in the training programme in London.

Sarah StockleyWhen the time comes to sit down and start applying for training contracts, just starting that task can be a daunting experience. I know, I’ve been there. While money, travel and the type of work the firm does are most commonly researched, students often forget to take into account the actual training programme the firm has to offer. This can be one of the most important factors when looking at firms to apply to and should be high up on the research list because different people respond differently to the types of training. You want to find firms that offer training programmes to suit your personality and work ethic so you can progress as much as possible and ensure that you get the most out of the two years. The better the trainee you end up being, the higher the chances are that you will be a successful associate too upon qualification.

My advice is to write down what you want the training programme to look like before you start. Some questions you might ask yourself are:

Do you want…

  • responsibility early on or more ‘hand-holding’?
  • formal in-house training or more on the job training?
  • a rigid seat structure or more flexibility?
  • to spend part of your training contract on secondment to an international office or to a client?
  • exposure to a wide range of practise areas or a discrete number?
  • to be part of a large cohort of trainees or a smaller group?
  • to be able to work with international offices or just national offices?

Most firms also now offer some sort of support system or mentoring process for trainees in the first two years. Consider whether this is something you would like to have available to you, even if it is just having a second year trainee assigned as a buddy mentor to you.

So, once you’ve figured out the type of firm that you think would suit you, take every opportunity to talk to current trainees at firms, ask them about what they enjoy most in their training programme and what they have found difficult or less enjoyable. Open days are a great way to do this. You can also ask associates why they have stayed at their firm upon qualification and how the training set them up for associate-hood. A firm with an excellent training programme will have numerous supporters internally ready to share the positive experiences they have had!

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in law (and you can even if you’re not studying law!) then come along to both nights of our Law Fair to meet lots of different firms, with many opportunities including training contracts and international posts.