On the Radar

On the Radar: Top Tips for Clerkship Success

Sarah Werner – Solicitor, KWM

So, you’ve got the clerkship.  Now what?
Here are some practical tips and tricks for how to succeed in and get the most out of your clerkship experience.


Be honest
First and foremost, be honest about yourself; don’t try and be something you’re not. The aim of a clerkship, for both you and the firm, is to figure out whether you – that is, the real you – will be a good fit. Secondly, always be honest in your dealings with others. If you don’t understand
something, if you’re completely overwhelmed, or if you make a mistake, it’s okay – just be upfront and honest about it.

Be respectful
A great piece of advice I received early on was to treat everyone you work for, indeed everyone you meet, as if they were the most important person in the firm. It doesn’t matter if they’re a partner, a grad, a secretary, or a member of the kitchen staff – everyone deserves your time and respect. Also respect and make time to get to know your fellow clerks. Resist the temptation to compete; help each other out instead. Remember that you’re all in the same boat and that many of the people you clerk with will be your future colleagues.

Pay attention to detail
Another great piece of advice I received recently was to treat every piece of work you do as if it were going straight to the CEO of an ASX100 company. Each piece of work you produce should be your best work and, where possible, a finished product. It is not your supervisor’s job to proofread your work for you! This goes for emails too – make sure they make sense, go to the right people and are free from any typos or spelling errors.


Talk about work outside of work
While clerking you will be exposed to a lot of confidential information and it is absolutely crucial that you keep it confidential. Don’t talk about work or clients outside of the office – that goes for the lifts too – and definitely don’t be that clerk overheard badmouthing a colleague at the coffee shop or on the train. If you need to debrief – don’t do it in public. The legal profession is astonishingly small and chances are it will get back to them.

In the office…

Read the news
Keeping up to date with current affairs, especially in the industry/sector in which you’re working, is a great way to stand out. Make a habit of flicking through the paper as you make your morning coffee and if you’re working on a high-profile deal, of for a particular client, setting up relevant google alerts can be a great way to stay on top of any developments.

Take a notepad and pen
Don’t go anywhere without these – you never know when instructions are going to come your way. When they do, be sure to ask questions and clarify exactly what you’re being asked to do, what the context is, when it’s due and what form your instructor wants it in. If you get the opportunity to go to court or sit in on a client meeting, be proactive and take detailed notes. That way, you’ll be well placed to handle any follow up questions or tasks.

The three door rule
If you have ‘capacity’ (a word you will become well-acquainted with) avoid the temptation to send a team-wide email asking for work. This will inevitably lead to an inundation of tasks grossly exceeding your ‘capacity’. Rather, tell three people, then go back to your desk and wait. They may
not have anything for you straight away – but it won’t take long.

Sit tight for five
In a similar vein, don’t step away from your desk immediately after leaving a voicemail or sending an email. If you can, sit tight for a few minutes in case the recipient contacts you with any immediate questions.

Most importantly…

Learn lots
Law firms are full of incredibly smart people. Make sure you take some time out to ask questions, observe and learn from them. And if you have a particular interest in a particular area, even if it’s outside your immediate practice group, speak up – your genuine interest will be appreciated and
rewarded. People love to talk about their work, and will gladly tell you all about it over a coffee.

Get involved and have fun
Yes your work will be important. But, believe it or not, there is more to life in a law firm than ‘billable hours’! There are lots of other activities to get involved in, which are a great way to get away from your desk, have some fun, meet different people from across the firm and get a real sense of the firm’s culture. Learn to say ‘YES’ – whether it be to a coffee, some pro bono work, a charity event or filling in for the firm’s footy team. Law firms are looking for well-rounded individuals who will contribute to the firm and its culture in a variety of different ways.


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