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This article was originally prepared for The Gavel, with Tommy Chen contributing.

A summer clerkship. Many see it as a ticket to the job they’ve always wanted. Here are some tips that might help you along.

Applying for a clerkship

Tip #1: Focus on around half a dozen firms. You might apply for slightly more or slightly less, but you must be the wagering kind if you only apply for one or two, and the weight of cocktail nights and other events will kill you if you apply for a dozen or more (and you get them all). Quality is better than quantity: spend time on each of your applications instead of spreading out your time like peanut butter. If you think a large firm is for you, maybe pick one or two smaller ones (and vice versa): you might like what you see!

Tip #2: Don’t do it at the last minute. If you’re the kind who leaves your assignment till the last minute (like me!), be warned.

Tip #3: Make your application compelling. Personalise each application for each firm, focusing on why that firm is the firm for you — even if you say that to every firm. Is there a reason why you’re applying to them, apart from the fact that you’ve heard of their name before and you think they’re big? Common differences between firms include the locations in which they practice and the areas of law they focus on. The law firm profiles in the careers guides will often state selection criteria, perhaps implicitly; try and address each and every one of those criteria in your cover letter.

Tip #4: These are commercial law firms. Sure you might be attracted to their pro bono practices or their work-life balance or what not, but don’t forget you are applying to a commercial law firm. These places do such interesting things as write contracts, sue other people who break those contracts and give advice at the whim of their clients. So what attracts you to a commercial law firm? Is it the fact that you find a buzz from working on Big Important Deals with Big Important Clients? Or is it because you find the practical aspect of the law compelling?

Tip #5: Reflect. In the interview, you may be asked to explain something you’ve written on your CV. Nothing sells better than a coherent, compelling story that shows a bit of you and what skills you possess.

Tip #6: First impressions matter. There’s no need to sculpt your hair like a work of art, but make sure you look neat, professional and awake.

Tip #7: Consult the CLSS Careers Guide. We wrote it just for you. Find it at

The offer

Congratulations, you’ve got a couple of offers. How do you pick?

Tip #1: Keep asking questions. The food and drink are usually good at cocktail nights, but they’re there for you to ask lots of questions. What kind of work will clerks be expected to do? What kind of work is involved in that particular area of law, as a lawyer or a partner even? As an example, I did computer science as my first degree: I had no idea what IT lawyers do, so I grilled away until I was satisfied I understood what they did. Ask about some of the big matters that they’ve worked on. Would you be interested to take part in that? You might also want to ask about their training, or overseas opportunities if that floats your boat, or you could perhaps even ask the lawyers what they like about their current firm.

Tip #2: The people. I’m sure every firm says they’re the best for “people” — but their sort of people might not be the kind of people you like to be around. So even if you have an offer from a Big Important Firm with Big Important Clients, what good is that if you can’t stand the people at work? Can you strike a conversation with them? Do you like them? You’ll also probably see other students from the same university as you: what does the selection of candidates tell you about the firm? You may also know some people in the year above you who did a clerkship in the last summer: what did they think of the experience?

Enoch Lau was a 2008-09 summer clerk at Blake Dawson. Tommy Chen is currently a graduate at UBS.

(Update: Tommy wrote a follow-up blog post on clerkships.)

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Philip Ruddock's wet dream

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Categorisation of property in the common law can be quite complex, so here’s a diagram to illustrate the different types of property that can exist:

Property in the common law

Each set of subcategories in the diagram above is an exhaustive division of its parent category. All property is either real or personal property. Personal property consists of chattels real (which includes leaseholds) and chattels personal. Chattels personal can be divided into choses in possession (such as pens and cars) and choses in action (such as copyright and a debt).

The diagram captures the main divisions, but it is possible to further subcategorise: for example, choses in action can be divided into legal and equitable choses in action. For some areas of the law, other categorisations might take centre stage, such as the distinction between corporeal and incorporeal property, and moveable and immoveable property.


In Australia, for published works where the author is identifiable, the duration of copyright is 70 years from the death of the author. This applies even if it is work performed under employment for a company; even if the company ultimately owns the copyright, the length of copyright protection is measured by reference to the human author’s lifespan.

This can seem rather counter-intuitive for the uninitiated, and for many “company-produced” works, like commercial software, it is quite difficult to determine the authors of that work, and hence when it will fall into the public domain.

On the other hand, United States copyright law has a notion of corporate authorship: copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author (as in Australia), but for works of corporate authorship, copyright expires 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is earlier.

120 years does sound quite extreme, and the U.S. Act that extended protection to this extent has been, perhaps rightfully, chided as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” — however, the Australian Act isn’t really much better. If you assume that the average author is 40 years old and dies at 75 years, and corporate works are published not long after they are created, that’s 105 years of copyright protection on average. And since the duration of copyright of works of joint authorship (as would be many corporate works) extends to 70 years after the death of the last surviving author, the U.S. Act could, in many cases, result in a shorter copyright term than under the Australian Act. However, if the authors of the work cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry (i.e. for anonymous or pseudonymous works, a category that some corporate works might fall into), then copyright only extends to 70 years after publication in Australia.

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I don't think it's time for me to give up my day job yet.

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On 22 April 2009, the High Court of Australia handed down the decision of IceTV v Nine Network Australia [2009] HCA 14, in which IceTV was held not to have infringed Nine’s copyright in its weekly schedule of programmes, when it used data from them to populate its electronic programme guides for use on digital televisions. It was an eagerly awaited decision, as it was expected to clarify the extent of the monopoly that copyright holders have over their compilations of factual data, an issue of importance in our data-driven economy.


Nine executives create a “Weekly Schedule” for each week, showing the order of programmes on each day (amongst other things), and these schedules are sent to the “Aggregators”, who produce television guides for use by the public. IceTV makes an electronic programme guide called IceGuide, but unlike the Aggregators, they have no licence from Nine to do so. Instead, to create their IceGuide, an IceTV employee watched lots of television to create templates for each station (possible because television programming tend to be regular and predictable), and week by week variations would then be corrected by reference to the public Aggregated Guides. IceTV took time and title information from the Aggregated Guides, as there would have been no other way that they could have found these out before the shows actually screened.

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IceTV won today in its appeal to the High Court over the use of Channel Nine’s TV schedules in its electronic program guide product.

Update @ 12:15 PM: See IceTV’s victory blog post, and freshly released, the High Court judgment (only 49 pages!).

Update: See my case note and analysis here.

22 Apr 2009 | 4 comments

The Hong Kong Law Fair will be coming to the University of Sydney this year, and it’s being coordinated by the Chinese Law Students Society. Register now to attend, and spread the word!

04 Mar 2009 | No comments

If you’ve ever been to the old law school building in the city at St James, you’ll probably agree that while it may have had great location, location, location, it was most definitely a renovator’s choice find. Cockroaches, temperature variations never thought possible on planet Earth and utterly-frustrating swivel chairs will thankfully be a thing of the past (mostly anyway – some classes will still be taught at St James). So rejoice, and explore the new law building with me.

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These rankings have been updated for 2011!

Other law firm rankings go by revenue, the number of partners, or some other measure of bigness. But in this Web 2.0 world, shouldn’t we be looking at what the unwashed masses have to say? In that vein, I am proud to present the 2009 Australian Law Firm Rankings.

The basic idea is that the better the law firm, the more articles there should be on the Internet that refer to them. This is similar to the idea behind PageRank, although I can only find out the PageRank of a firm’s website to the nearest integer, which is insufficiently fine-grained.

I put each of the law firms’ full names through Google in the following format: "law firm name" AND law The name is combined with the word law because firms like Gadens have rather common names that could be used in other contexts.1 The search is restricted to Australian sites, because international firms like Baker & McKenzie would be unfairly advantaged – these rankings are meant to be for the Australian market.

Ranking Law Firm Page Count Partners2
1 Freehills (*) 20,000 214
2 Mallesons Stephen Jaques (*) 19,600 197
3 Allens Arthur Robinson (*) 19,500 197
4 Minter Ellison (*) 18,600 286
5 Deacons3 18,200 133
6 Clayton Utz (*) 17,300 223
7 Hunt & Hunt 15,200 56
8 Blake Dawson4 (*) 14,800 182
9 Corrs Chambers Westgarth 9,700 120
10 DLA Phillips Fox 8,010 164
11 Gadens 6,210 109
12 Maddocks 6,160 53
13 Baker & McKenzie 5,950 91
14 Holding Redlich 5,720 49
15 Gilbert + Tobin 4,830 54
16 Sparke Helmore 4,760 57
17 Middletons 4,260 64
18 Dibbs Abbott Stillman 3,330 68
19 McCullough Robertson 3,300 39
20 Arnold Bloch Leibler 3,260 28
21 Piper Alderman 3,080 56
22 Henry Davis York 2,510 50
23 TressCox 2,170 48
24 Davies Collison Cave 1,800 34
25 Herbert Geer 1,530 47
26 Lander & Rogers 1,400 42
27 HWL Ebsworth 1,310 99
28 Hall & Wilcox 1,290 27
29 Moray & Agnew 910 53
30 Thomson Playford Cutlers 335 37
31 Kennedy Strang 252 95

1 This is very rough and some irrelevant hits might still be returned. However, it appears to be “good enough” via inspection of some of the hits found.
2 The number of the partners is stated at 2 January 2009, and sourced from the Australian Financial Review, 12 December 2008, page 46.
3 “Deacon” is a common word and the search with this law firm’s name was particularly problematic with many irrelevant hits; the page count is therefore probably higher than what it should be.
4 Full disclosure: I currently work at Blake Dawson as a summer clerk.
* The firms with an asterisk are the Big Six law firms.

For comparison, I used the same methodology on UK firms, this time switching the domain to .uk. Clifford Chance, with 236 partners in the UK, returned 19,000 hits. Linklaters, with 227 partners, was second, with 12,800 hits. Thirdly, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer scored 12,500 hits; it has 219 partners and counsels, roughly counted from their website. Interestingly, this is the same order as reported by The Lawyer Global 100 2008, which ranks law firms by total revenue!

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