Informally some firms run a “first come first served” policy in relation to offering vacation scheme (and training contract) places to candidates. My firm is one of these firms and we tell candidates to get their applications in early when they come to speak to us at law firms and events. Therefore, sometimes the earlier you submit the application, the more likely you are to get offered a place – particularly as the grad recruitment team will already be reviewing the applications before the deadline (for a limited number of places).
By submitting your application early you are also showing to grad recruitment that you have a genuine desire to work for the firm (and good organisational skills). I often get candidates say to me at law fairs in November “I’ve done my application already but I just wanted to meet you before submitting it” which I am always impressed by. Of course, it also needs to be a good application, but generally, if you start early you will have time to perfect the application.
If you haven’t already submitted your application for a January deadline. Don’t worry. There is still time, but do try and give yourself some breathing room and apply ahead of time (as a very large number of applications will get submitted on the last day). If you are submitting your application online, do it in phases as you go along and not get stressed last minute (and many online applications allow you to add supplemental information before the actual deadline). But remember if you miss the deadline – your application will not get considered except in exceptional circumstances.
So get it in early and in any event before the deadline.