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 www.usydclss.com/Careers_Guide_2009.
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.)