It’s that time of year again. Clerkship season is around the corner for many law students around the country, with applications opening on 17 June for New South Wales, 13 July for Victoria, and 20 July for Western Australia. Every year, thousands of students go through this stressful, time-consuming and emotional process. Unfortunately, even before you type the first letter on your cover letter, the odds are stacked against you with less than 7% of law graduates being employed by the commercial law firms that offer clerkships.
It’s easy at this stage to have your eyes set on a particular firm (but be wary, see point 3 below), however, when you cut through the marketing glitter of the firms, the quality of a clerkship experience depends more on the group into which you rotate rather than the firm itself. With that in mind, here are some tips.
1. You’re going to get rejected.
Be prepared for the emails: “Due to the exceptionally high standard and volume of candidates this year, we regret to advise that unfortunately your application has been unsuccessful.” Dealing with rejection is never easy, and when you’ve spent days writing a carefully crafted cover letter and to only to receive generic rejection emails back, it’s easy to get disheartened. If you’ve moved through the interview rounds and stumble at the last hurdle, don’t let it weigh you down.
Don’t take it personally.
Ask for feedback.
Move on quickly.
2. You have to stand out.
It’s too late in the game now to change your academic achievements. Either you’ve picked up a number of prizes, or you’ve cruised along with a few passes and credits and the odd distinction. It’s also the same with your extra-curricular activities - it’s too late to change your interests. What can be changed is how you sell yourself and your achievements, and focus on the particular firm. You did an internship at an international tribunal last summer? A firm you’re applying for has a strong international litigation practice? Link them together.
Every law firm looks for a particular candidate. There are numerous stories of HD students with stellar extra-curriculars being rejected in top-tier firms, while credit-average students being accepted. The secret? It comes down to how you sell yourself to the specific firm. In standing out and selling yourself, you need to put the effort in. Don't leave yourself wondering what could have happened if you put in more effort into your application. It’ll be your biggest regret.
Don’t repeat your resume and don’t be generic.
Proofread. Read it out aloud. Ask someone else to proofread it.
3. You can’t be picky.
Fortunately, the recruitment market for law graduates is slowly picking up again. Every student has in mind their ideal firm to work for; however, this is just setting yourself up for disaster because if you don’t get it, you’ll feel that you’re settling for second-best. At the end of the day, apply for as many firms as possible, and if you lack time to write applications (which you shouldn’t, see point 2 above), then prioritise firms which you are more interested in.
And when the phone starts ringing, no one likes a humble bragger. Don’t be that elitist person when the interviews start rolling in. Keep it to yourself, otherwise you might end up burning yourself when you end up with no offers. If you do receive multiple offers, there’s no need for a public announcement.
Normalise your expectations.
Apply for multiple firms, even outside cvMail.
Don’t brag (see above).
For a complete list of firms in NSW and ACT, click here.
4. Clerkships aren’t for everyone. Sometimes, clerkships aren’t even for those who get them.
If you land a clerkship position, which converts to a graduate position, congratulations! The road to a career as a hot-shot lawyer is much easier. However, be prepared for the reality of a life as a commercial lawyer. Are you ready for stressful long hours? Are you willing to give up a few weekends a month? Partners breathing down your neck for a deadline given two hours ago? The horror stories are true, lawyers don’t like to admit it, and there’s a good reason why many young lawyers leave commercial firms within 2-3 years. Many students are dazzled by clerkship evenings thinking this is the only avenue out of law school when the reality is very different. Many bright-minded students with so much potential are stuck doing document review. Remember to keep an open mind - don't just apply because everyone else is.
Look into the numerous career paths out there and get a head start applying.
Don’t be deceived by firm marketing - do your research. If a firm has recently made redundant a certain area, be aware of this.
Be open minded.
Happy Clerkship Games. And may the odds be ever in your favor. Good luck applicants!
Bonus Tip: Download our annotated CV with comments and advice from leading law firms and organisations including top-tier international firm Linklaters.
Have a question about the clerkship process? Ask us below!