Sem 2 Week 10
By Jared Mintz
The clerkship process is stressful. It’s scary, exhausting, and has infinite potential to disappoint. It also has the capacity to be an exciting, rewarding, and educational experience. While students across Australia navigate the oft-maligned clerkship minefield, I’d like to defend the process and the goal. In many ways clerkship applications operate like every other job hunt, while in others they are far better. As a preface, this is coming from someone who has received multiple rejections.
Trying to find employment at any level is an exercise in frustration. The majority of applications will not be met with an acknowledgement of any kind. A few compassionate organisations will have the courtesy of letting you know via automated email that you’ve failed. Most applications will sail into the abyss, never to be heard from again. Comparing that generic, widespread practice to the clerkship process, we find some similarities, but a number of advantageous differences.
For example, many firms will hold information and/or networking events where students can speak to staff, and learn about the role. Every firm will confirm they have received your application, often providing a detailed timeline for their application processes. Rejections are sent out (relatively) promptly so that applicants generally know where they stand within three weeks. Furthermore, every firm will send a rejection notice, rather than leaving you to wonder. Finally, the LIV guidelines ensure uniformity in scheduling to help manage expectations.
The clerkship process is depicted as a gauntlet of nerve-racking, anxiety-inducing experiences that pit students against each other, turning friends into enemies and otherwise level-headed individuals into quivering children. The truth is that they’re job applications. They might be more stressful, and require more time, effort, and research than your average application, but broadly speaking the process is the same. Competing against friends and classmates may add an extra layer of awkwardness, but that’s just the way it is.
Two relevant and essential facts about employers:
Companies want to succeed and be profitable. To that end, they want the best possible employees. (Note: I don’t know what ‘best’ means, or whether prioritising grades is a surefire recipe for employer success). With so many brilliant applicants across Australia, it is a simple fact that I don’t have the highest grades or most impressive resume out there. I’m under no illusions. If I’m fortunate enough to earn a clerkship I want it to be because I competed with those brilliant students. Clerkships wouldn’t be as meaningful, or valuable, if firms were handing them out like keepcups.
There is a lot of talk about privilege at law school, but oddly, no one extends the claim to clerkships. The clerkship process includes a large cohort of high-achieving students, vying for a few prestigious positions with elite employers in a highly respected field. The ability to participate in the clerkship process is itself a privilege. Moreover, it’s voluntary. No one forces us to apply. In fact, I know many students who did not… and good for them! If you aren’t interested then why bother. More power to you and best of luck if you are following a different career path.
Job applications are inherently stressful. There are ways to ease the process, but in the end you’re either in or out, and there’s no sugar-coating rejection. The natural reaction is anger, but laying our negative emotions at the feet of employers is a bit disingenuous. If anything, the ‘blame’ should fall more heavily on law schools and, more importantly, ourselves. Employers will do their utmost to recruit candidates; universities should do their utmost to present alternatives, and allay fears about the necessity of clerkships for professional success.
More than anything, we need to realise that clerkships are not the be all and end all of a legal career. Anxiety and fear are contagious, especially when bottled up in the halls of a single small building. Masochistic tools like Whirlpool certainly don’t help. We should remember that clerkships are not the Holy Grail of achievement. They are a foot in the door; an exciting and respectable opportunity, to be sure. But that’s all they are. The first step in a journey of a thousand miles.
Rejection stinks. I will be frustrated and disappointed if I’m unsuccessful with all my applications. Unfortunately, rejection, and the ability to cope with it, are unavoidable parts of life. Your identity should not be intertwined with the success or failure of a clerkship application. There are an untold number of successful practitioners and academics who were not offered clerkships.
There are no guarantees in the application process. Many deserving and talented candidates won’t be offered jobs. It might be unfair, but it’s the nature of the beast. If you want a chance at the reward you have to be willing to risk failure. Best of luck to everyone with ongoing applications.