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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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My mobile’s battery is flat, so to call my mum to pick me up from the station, I’ve turned on my work laptop, connected to Telstra NextG, connected to VPN using my secure token, logged into Cisco IP Communicator (which emulates the IP phones we have on our desks at work) and then made a call using that. That’s pretty cool (but not quite as cool as this).

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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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Redfern. The name probably evokes memory of the 2004 Redfern riots and the Aboriginal enclave in the Block. As with other uni students who use Redfern station, I’m fairly familiar with the part to the west of the station. But what lies to the east? With a camera, I set out to investigate.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Do you have excellence with rapport? If not, what <buzzword> with <buzzword> do you have?

29 Nov 2008 | 3 comments


Thanks Dan!

And today, I accepted the summer clerkship offer from Blake Dawson.

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