Issue 3, Semester 2, 2019
With the histrionics of clerkship season finally hitting a fever pitch, this week De Minimis has scoured the ranks of past clerks and applicants for experiences of this harrowing ordeal.
*All names have been changed
Why did you want a clerkship?
I reached the penultimate year of my studies with little more than the thought, 'I'd like to get a job at the end of this degree'. When I sat down and thought more about the process, I came to the realisation that I wanted a firm that would give me the best training and exposure, while opening doors for later on. It helped that I had a sense that I wanted to work in dispute resolution which shaped my firm choices.
What was most challenging about the process?
Bringing myself to write the cover letters and craft them to each firm. The clerkship application process fell at an inconvenient time around my studies. I also had to travel a reasonable distance to interviews and cocktail evenings having gone to a more regional university.
How was the experience going through clerkships with your friends?
It helps. Having someone to walk the room with and double the network of former clerks and alumni to make introductions is a value add. I didn't feel any dread about being compared to classmates or contemporaries. Then again, the firms I chose did not put me through a group interview - I can think of nothing worse.
Would you do anything differently?
Not overthink so many parts of the process. Psychometric testing (regardless of your personal views on it) can't be won or lost. Interviews with prospective employers do not go better if you research your interviewing partner. In my case, they definitely made one much worse.
You clerked in 2014 and now play a role in recruiting current clerks, what's changed in the last five years?
What law firms are looking for has shifted. Technical excellence is always pretty well assured in clerk cohorts these days, so firms are looking for graduates who 'get' the business of law. If pushed, I'd reduce this to three things. Real world experiences, good judgment and being okay to be thrown in front of a strange client at short notice. How you get that is up to you.
Editor’s note: Sebastian did not attend MLS
What were you thinking?
Ha! Good question. To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on applying in the year I did. Then at the last minute, I was helping a friend with theirs and decided to go for it – so I spent a marathon weekend to get all my applications together! Let me tell you, it’s really not the kind of thing you want to leave to the last minute.
What were your interviews like?
My first two were a bit of a train wreck. I didn’t have a plan for how to sell myself, and just ended up reeling off my list of experiences and accomplishments, which didn’t seem to impress the interviewers. You hear a lot of stories about American college interviews, where institutions want a ‘hook’ or something interesting about you to make you stand out. I think that’s a bit true for clerkships as well. For my second two, I decided to play that approach a bit more confidently – I talked more about my work and other interests not directly law-related and basically said ‘this is what I think is unique about me and how those skills could transfer over to law work.’ I don’t know if that’s what helped get me an offer in the end, but the interviewers seemed more interested and asked more follow-up questions, which I assume is a good sign!
What about your experiences at law school at the time? Did it affect your schoolwork or your relationships with your friends?
I’ve heard some people talking about that. To be truthful, I know that I’m a pretty competitive and jealous person, so I made a conscious decision to try to compartmentalise the clerking and school parts of my life. On the one hand, that meant that I didn’t have people going through the same situation as me who I could share my experiences with, but at the same time it meant that when I was at school I wasn’t constantly importing those pressures and anxieties into my day. Everybody is different, but at least that approach worked for me.
How about when you finally started clerking at a firm? How was that a new experience for you?
To be honest, I don’t even remember anymore, but I suppose it must have all been new for me at the time. If I try to put myself in the shoes of twenty-three-year-old me, I guess the biggest thing would have been realising that law is a business. At university, I recall that when learning about the law we tended to view it as an abstract system – we’d learn about it in terms of core principles, legal histories and policy justifications. When I arrived in a firm – it was all very much “you’re here to assist the company in providing a service and earn us all money.” When I say that I don’t mean to sound cynical, the work can be, and usually is, incredibly interesting and rewarding. It’s just that going from a classroom environment to focussing on business activities can be a very abrupt transition.
How do you feel your clerkship experiences helped you progress into your current career?
In terms of learning about what it’s really like to work in a corporate legal environment? It helped a lot. In terms of actually leading to future employment and career progression? Hard to say. I didn’t take a graduate role at the firm I clerked at, and during my first job straight out of law school, they repeated a lot of the on-the-job training. A few years later, I’m not working in the same field I clerked in, and I probably didn’t get my current role in large part due to my clerking experience. For me at least, it’s a lot like the ATAR was back in high school. Yes, it was important, and yes at the time it seemed like the be-all-and-end-all of my existence, but even just a few years later, most people have forgotten all about it. That being said – I know people who have gone from clerkship roles, to graduate placements to long-term practicing solicitors all at the same company. There is a lot of variety in legal career pathways.
Editor’s note: Amy did not attend MLS
Why were your reasons for applying?
Well I didn’t even know what a clerkship was in first year! Then one day I got talking to my boss (a lawyer) and he encouraged me to apply because he thought it would be a valuable opportunity and he emphasised the benefits of large city law firms- of which I had no idea about previously.
I also applied to see if I actually enjoyed working in a large workplace. This was something I was very unsure of because I had only worked in places with a maximum of twenty staff previously and I was not sure if I wanted to live in a city after graduating.
What were the kind of difficulties you had to face?
The hardest part for me was seeing how competitive everyone was. I am someone who runs my own race and achieves my own goals, but I’m never competing against others in my mind. Although the first few rejections hurt, after that they didn’t bother me.
What was hard to see were people crying or bragging about their offers at uni on offer day. This was very unpleasant to see, and I couldn’t believe it when two people in my class we’re comparing whether an offer from Allen’s or HSF was better.
Do you think the process was made easier or more difficult by the fact that you were going through it with people you knew?
Before the application process a close JD friend and I decided that we would support each other to the fullest during this experience and share every detail- interviews, applications, offers, etc. This was a great idea and I strongly recommend it! However, it was also hard to go through the process with people I knew who were competitive and didn’t want to talk about it.
Why did you apply for clerkships?
As trite as it is, I applied for clerkships because I wanted to see whether I would like to work in commercial law. I may have drunk the Kool-Aid, but I also think starting a career in commercial law will give me good training (supposedly).
What was the application period like for you?
For me, the hardest part about the process was the length of the process. Just when you breathe a sigh of relief after handing in your applications, you have (cr)aptitude testing, and then you have cocktail evenings, and then interviews (which perfectly coincide with assessment). And just when you finish interviews, you have exams. At this stage, the clerkship hasn’t even begun…
How did it feel applying with classmates?
Going through the process with people I knew made it more difficult. This wasn’t necessarily because we were competing for the same positions, but because I felt like I couldn’t vent to my friends about the process, as we were all already under so much pressure.
What would you have done differently?
I sincerely hope I don’t have to go through the process again, but if I had to, I would try to have more of an open mind. I think it’s important to go into the process without any expectations of what kind of lawyer you’ll be or which firm most suits your personality (taking that free online test didn’t really help). Indeed, I couldn’t help but feeling a little insincere saying I wanted to be a Project Finance for the rest of my life (I don’t).
Any final words of advice?
Find what you like doing (that’s not law related) and keep doing it. I always find moving my body helps. And don’t forget to sleep, rest and breathe.
PS. I still despise cocktail evenings, don’t tell the HR reps…