Volume 10, Issue 3
Last Thursday I went to the LSS Careers Guide launch, to pick up a guide and to hear Matthew Albert speak about his career path. I expected to hear, as I’d heard many times before but never believed, “clerkships aren’t the be all and end all” – now I finally believe it.
Two days ago I was at breaking point, incredibly stressed and emotional and plagued by the same overwhelming thought of “I did badly in Property, which means I’ll never get a clerkship this year, which means I’ll never get a graduate job…”
I’m not even sure that corporate law is for me, but I want the option to be open. So I dropped Remedies and extended my degree by 6 months to give myself another chance to apply next year. I wasn’t sure that I’d made the right decision, and even though everyone I had spoken to (friends, parents, careers advisors) thought I had, another dimension of stress was added.
Matthew spoke to us about his own career path – landing six clerkships but not a single graduate job when offers came out, and feeling convinced that that was the end of his legal career. It wasn’t. He took the path less travelled (his line!) to get to where he is now. Matthew took any opportunities available and six months later he was offered a graduate position (three actually!). Since then, Matthew has worn many hats - worked and studied internationally, worked for government, was an associate to a Supreme Court judge... the list goes on. He’s been a barrister for six years, and it’s clear from the way he talks about his work how much he loves it.
Matthew spoke about the ‘crisis coffee’ time (NOW!) when people apply, and fail, at getting clerkships and graduate jobs. The time of year when he spends hours with students who are intelligent, kind, and deserving - who should have been offered a place but weren’t, and who now feel that their legal careers are done.
We hear that there are other options, but, for the most part, we are inducted into the mentality that law school, clerkships and legal careers are a sprint to the finish line - but what finish line? There is no finish line in a legal career (okay, maybe a HC judge?).
As Matthew said, yes it is a numbers game, but we’re not competing in a 100m sprint, “it’s more like orienteering.” There are hundreds of paths to get to where you want to be, and even if you do want to work in a top tier commercial law firm, not getting a clerkship doesn’t mean that you can never do that. Find a path that suits you, for some that will be a 100m sprint, but for most of us it won’t. For most of us, we’ll have our own ‘path less travelled’ and that is how we’ll get to where we want – wherever, whatever, and whoever that may be.
What I heard today, I’ve been told before (we all have). It is something I’ve struggled to comprehend, and something I needed to understand three months ago. I don’t know why I finally believed it today, but I did - and I can thank Matthew for that.
I’m not saying I’ve been cured from ‘clerkship-itis’, but in light of Matthew’s talk, here is my advice: have a look into the backgrounds of some of those people who you consider successful, and who you respect. I bet it wasn’t a 100m sprint.
Nisha Patel is a second-year JD student
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