The Weekly LSA

Experiences from the Clerkship Process

The clerkship process is brutal. It can chew you up and spit you out no matter how impressive and passionate you are. Coming out the other end of the process without a clerkship in hand is a pain felt by many law students. Understandably, some decide to opt-out of the process altogether and I know many people who have done just that.

After having gone through the process and failing, you may think that you aren’t good enough. That’s not true. It really isn’t. And an article like this can go one of two ways. I’ve become acquainted with people who did not obtain a clerkship but have still found themselves in graduate roles at firms who generally do not hire beyond their clerkship pool. This speaks to the assertion you often hear that the clerkship process is only one way of getting your foot in the door. That’s absolutely true, and that path is open to you too if you don’t wish to go through the process again. Going through the process again though is also an option.  I understand what rejections feel like, and I want to encourage you that this is not the end. You may have fallen short the first time around, but that does not mean that you won’t be successful in attaining a clerkship the next time around if that’s the path you want to take.

I applied widely when I first went through the process and was fortunate enough to receive a few interviews. Come offer day though, I was only in the running for one firm who ultimately didn’t give me a call. I thought I had done reasonably well in the interview, however, when I called for feedback, I was not given much constructive criticism aside from the infamous line of “we received a number of very high calibre applications.” I understand why that’s the case though, it’s a very competitive environment where decisions can be made on the finest of margins. This essentially means that you shouldn’t be too disheartened if you do come up short but accepting that can obviously be a little hard to do.

Whether your story sounds similar, or whether you were in a better or worse position than me, if this is something you truly want, you do have the ability to turn things around and take those additional steps to receive a clerkship offer. There’s an element of luck involved of course, but sometimes you have to make your own luck.

I went on holiday over the summer break rather than clerking alongside my friends who were successful during the process. Whilst doing so, I began devising a plan to take that next step.

This was a process which involved a lot of reflection. A big question you must ask yourself is whether commercial law is really where you want to be as firms can definitely see through someone who doesn’t have that passion. Although in my case, the answer was a firm, yes saying I ‘have a passion for commercial law’ is an empty phrase which has to be proven in some way. Those are just words though and so I also sought to prove that answer not only to myself but to the recruiters who would ultimately be reading my applications.

As I was entering what would have been my final year, I had enrolled in Law Honours and sought to explore a commercially relevant topic. Alternatively, I could have enrolled in two commercially focussed electives, and writing a thesis isn’t for everyone, however, I had a passion for my topic. In lieu of completing another commercially focussed elective, I was successful in applying to undertake Copyright Law with HarvardX in addition to my studies at La Trobe. This naturally increased my study load without the benefit of receiving credit points, but, as the subject was intellectually engaging and it was interesting to see how an American law school purports to teach its students, this wasn’t a particular concern of mine. Going above and beyond I see as the bare minimum if you’re going to succeed and so I would highly recommend you do whatever you can to tap into the vast array of educational resources available.

Copyright Law was a full subject with an application process, which means it’s not quite as simple as just doing the work, but there is a range of free online courses you can otherwise complete to improve your skill set. It’s not something that makes its way onto my resume, but I’ve also completed short courses around other key skills such as managing conflict and leadership. These skills are helpful whether you end up clerking or not too so if this is something that you’re interested in doing, please reach out to me as I’m definitely happy to share some of these resources with you!

One of the greatest things about La Trobe is that people genuinely want each other to succeed and it’s important to keep in mind that the people you meet now are going to be your future colleagues. In fact, many of the graduates I spoke to at firms were people I first met at uni. I would therefore highly recommend actively engaging with people and extracurriculars such as the La Trobe Law Students’ Association’s events and moots. These activities obviously provide you with the opportunity to speak with people and network with firms, but they can also add to your skillset.

You also shouldn’t be afraid to be proactive in reaching out to HR and lawyers at the firms you want to clerk at, whether you know them or not. HR are often quite helpful in getting you in touch with lawyers, but this is something you can even do yourself. There are always a number of reasons for wanting to work for a particular firm, but one of the biggest pulls for me towards a firm that I will be clerking at was the fact that a lawyer I cold messaged on Linkedin turned out to be exactly the type of person I’d love to work with.

Finally, if you’re not already busy juggling numerous obligations, there’s probably something more you could be doing to build your skills. Obviously, we don’t all have the luxury of volunteering hours and hours of our week as we have to work to support ourselves too, but you need to be doing as much as you can, whether that be working in the legal profession, volunteering at a Community Legal Centre, assisting an academic with research, mooting, taking up positions in committees such as the Law Students’ Association, the list goes on. If you’re a competitive person, which may well be why you enjoy law, it’s also good to keep in mind that everyone else applying for clerkships will also be doing the same so that they can demonstrate the value they can bring to firms, so you need to get ahead of the crowd.

Ultimately, if you keep improving and can demonstrate your skills and passion for commercial law, you can take that next step and receive a clerkship offer. Even if you realise along the way through that commercial law may not be for you, you will be putting yourself in good stead for whatever role you wish to apply for later in your career by doing these things.

I’m not sure if anyone would even be familiar with Calvin and Hobbes, but Calvin’s dad always tells Calvin that, whenever he’s in a situation he doesn’t like, he’s building character. Whilst that may seem a bit silly as a kid, whether it’s a character or something else you’re building, by going through this process, you’re going to be gaining something from the process whether you attain a clerkship or not.

It can be easy to get stuck looking forward to the next step though and it’s important to remember to enjoy the moment too. I’m not sure what your plans are this summer but, as Victoria is opening up (and maybe even the other states), I hope you take some time to relax and have some fun. If you want to connect having fun to getting a clerkship too, as much as we all study law for a reason, firms know you’re not a robot and they want a real person who has interests beyond the law, so don’t be afraid to do non-law things this summer and in general.


Matthew Deetlefs


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