Volume 8, Issue 10
'Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently' - Henry Ford
For people who are naturally good at talking, and who are so incredibly intelligent, we law students (and the profession more broadly) are just woeful at talking about things that really matter - the elephants in the room.
Well guys, I don’t have a great poker face, and I want to reach out. Like many of you, I too have been through a rough patch lately. I want to talk about the herd of elephants in the room – the clerkship process.
I applied for clerkships this year – 8 in total. I applied to mid-tier firms whose values aligned with my own, whose staff were diverse and interesting, and whose practice areas interested me. Firms which had interesting international opportunities and supported and mentored young grads.
I did my research, had coffees, and didn’t make silly mistakes in letters, which I tweaked for hours on end. I have some solid legal experience and my grades are fine.
But I did not receive an interview, or a telephone call. I’m still waiting on a rejection email from one (obviously playing hard to get).
Let me preface this by saying that I am genuinely delighted for those who have had interviews, been invited to networking nights and received offers – it is an immense joy to see friends and peers succeed, especially given how tough this process is! I have debriefed with my dearest friend, a Monash student, after every interview and networking night, and when her offers came out, she asked for my help in deciding which to accept. I felt like a proud aunty.
I have worked hard to separate the success of others from personal failure. And I am grateful to my friends, and the majority of the cohort at MLS, for the tactful, humble and dignified way in which they have gone about their clerkship experience. It’s been tough for everyone: those who applied and got nothing, those who got interviews but not offers, and those who have stood by, unsure how best to support their friends.
Although my path in the law so far has had an overwhelmingly public interest and government bent, I, like many people with similar experience, made an active decision to apply for clerkships for a few reasons.
Partly because it’s the ‘done’ thing, and it’s something MLS encourage. I’m in my penultimate year, it would be valuable experience, I would have the chance to learn about a diverse range of practice areas in a short space of time, it was a side of the law I had never seen and was eager to learn about, and the firms would have free coffee/snacks.
But I also applied for clerkships because they would likely lead to a graduate job in a firm, which would provide an opportunity to build a network in the legal sector, to be mentored, to learn from a wealth of resources, to work on a diversity of interesting matters and to have my practicing certificate supported – to have some stability.
Let’s get this straight. I do not believe for one second that I was entitled to a clerkship. But I’d be lying if I said that not even getting a phone call inviting me to an interview didn’t absolutely shatter me.
Spring break came at a really great time, and I thought I’d put all my clerkship rejection angst to bed, but then October 13 rolled around. Thankfully I was in a majority first year torts class - I can't imagine how I would've coped if I had been attending a class full of second years.
It was as though I was the kid without presents on Christmas Day, watching everyone else open theirs. But my lack of presents weren’t because I’d done anything really naughty, it was just because.
I sat on the tram counting my blessings: my loving, stable and supportive family, my incredible boyfriend (who deserves an honorary degree from MLS for everything he’s put up with) a solid circle of friends, my education, my health and the travel experiences I have had.
I told myself to put on the same face I encourage the kids I babysit to put on when they stub a toe or stand on Lego (you do not understand how much that fucking hurts). But like them, my ‘brave face’ slowly gave way, my eyes welled, and tears tumbled. By some miracle I was on an empty train carriage on my way home - because these were real tears - wet, fat, juicy, ugly.
Ironically, the Age informed me that October 13 also happened to be the International Day of Failure! So I did what I do whenever there is the slightest reason to celebrate something – I did.
And I rationalised.
When I wear one of those ‘Man Repeller’ outfits the majority of people absolutely detest (usually featuring patterns involving small birds) – I own it. So it was time to do exactly the same thing in this instance (transferable skills – yay!) - I decided to break this ‘failure’ thing down - to own it, to wear it, to talk about it and to make sense of it.
I had been cynical about how much firms remember about you from networking events - but I resolved to attend each and every single one of them in 2016.
I submitted my application for careers co opt on the LSS, in the hope that I can help others manage their expectations and mental health during the clerkship process, be given the opportunity to better inform myself of the process, and to provide some insights about alternative pathways.
And I made the decision to extend my degree, to plan the most ridiculously awesome post degree travel adventure, to look after myself a bit more (physically and mentally) and to spend more time doing what I love with those I love.
I never thought I'd say this, but, thank you clerkship application process, for the valuable lessons you have taught me.
Thank you for teaching me what it is to fail after I have only really ever experienced success, good fortune and privilege. Thank you for teaching me to embrace failure for what it is - a learning experience and not a dirty word. Thank you for teaching me to separate the success of others from my own disappointment - I'll probably need to do that again someday if a friend gets a promotion and I don't, or if a friend falls pregnant while I struggle to.
Thank you for shattering my ten-year plan, for teaching me that it's foolish to plan so far ahead and for teaching me the flexibility and resilience to roll with life’s punches.
Thank you for teaching me to run my own race.
Claire Poyser is a second-year JD student