A spectre is haunting the MLS – the spectre of clerkships. A delirious aura of exhaustion surely hangs over every law student who has spent weeks writing cover letter after cover letter to law firms they’re not even interested in. If they’re lucky, they get to sit a psychometric test deliberately designed to stress them. If they’re even luckier, they get to sit through an interview trying to explain why they’re interested in a job they’re not interested in. Then, at the end of it all, they are probably going to get an email about the “large number of strong applications this year”, with no idea of how to get a job in law other than through a clerkship.
With clerkship offers rapidly approaching, maybe we should reflect on what this process is doing to us, and how it became this way.
The state of affairs is familiar to all of us: there are vanishingly few positions in clerkship programs compared to the number of applicants, and most people end up finding jobs outside of clerkships and graduate programs with the big commercial law firms. Even though we know this to be the case, a massive amount of resources are spent advertising seasonal clerkships, and providing advice on how to ace your interview, spruce your C.V., or compose a killer cover letter.
Clerkships often dominate discussions about career opportunities after law school. Even though only a few people will get into a clerkship, it is treated as the default path, if not the only way, into a ‘successful’ legal career. A large number of law students wind up with the tacit impression that their whole worth as a legal professional depends on getting into a clerkship at a commercial law firm, with perverse ethical outcomes.
We all do our fair share of puffery when advertising ourselves in job applications, but the hyper-competitiveness that is cultivated by the clerkship process in particular seems to encourage seriously unethical behaviour, and hostility among us all.
As an extreme example, De Minimis has been made aware of allegations that a member of the MULSS executive committee misrepresented their employment credentials in order to secure personal benefits. De Minimis understands that the individual has been employed as a casual at a prominent law firm in the past, but continues to mislead others, both face-to-face and via platforms such as Linkedin, into believing their employment is ongoing.
A senior representative for the firm at which the individual claims to be employed confirmed to De Minimis that although the person had not been formally fired, their contract was unambiguously casual, and they had received no work from the firm since February. De Minimis understands that the lack of work for eight months means that the person is no longer considered an employee as a matter of law.
This raises questions about whether they deceived electors during their 2021 election campaign and whether it would be most appropriate for them to step down from the MULSS Executive Committee. Also in question is when exactly other figures on the Committee became aware of the deception.
It isn’t our place at De Minimis to name and shame this person, or to engage in a private crusade against members of the MULSS, but we are genuinely concerned about this as a manifestation of the toxic, hypercompetitive behaviour that the clerkship process in particular seems to encourage.
While singling someone out for lying about their work status might seem petty, this is the kind of unethical behaviour that could prevent someone from being admitted as a lawyer, and beyond that, it’s the kind of behaviour that makes people cynical about participating in life at MLS, and makes life miserable for those who try.
This concern leads us to raise a question: why is the careers information provided by the MULSS seems so heavily skewed towards the clerkship process, when it is ultimately relevant to so few of us?
While events are run to provide information about legal careers in the public sector, or criminal law or public interest law, it nowhere near matches the amount of information or resources devoted to raising awareness about clerkships at commercial law firms, which get their own handbook – which is two and a half times the length of the more generalist careers handbook. Why?
Is it perhaps because of the massive amounts of revenue generated by selling space in the handbook to commercial law firms? Is there a conflict of interest experienced by those who organise and publish the careers information?
Again, we would like to emphasise that De Minimis is not trying to launch a crusade against members of the MULSS. We all sit in a structure that incentivises hyper-competitive behaviour, and we are not suggesting that members of the MULSS have acted with nefarious intentions. Nevertheless, the pattern is clear, and its malign effects are evident.
We need the MULSS to recognise that they put too much emphasis on clerkships as the default pathway into a career, and devote more resources to raising awareness of the normal ways of getting a job after graduation. Clerkships can be a great way to gain experience and exposure, but they are not what most people will experience, and the MULSS has a duty to put its resources into information that is more relevant to the student body at large, who won’t get into one.
Note: This article is the result of an investigation by De Minimis. Anyone seeking to learn more about the methods involved in that investigation, and the veracity of the information, may contact the Editor-in-Chief at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article cited an incorrect reference. Sorry about that.