Allens Confidential podcast
Ask us anything: clerkships, motivation, embarrassing moments
We asked our recent summer clerks what they wish they'd asked before they'd started their clerkships. From maintaining motivation to imposter syndrome, collaboration and Caitlin's clicky shoes, our hosts share their wisdom. And, in an epic Allens Confidential milestone, Geneva hands over the mic to new host Will Berthelot.
Some of the questions we discussed
- If you had the chance to redo your law career from the start again, what would you do differently?
- Who helped you out the most during your clerkship?
- What were the most memorable moments of your early days at Allens?
This episode is part of our 2021 series.
Listen to the episode
Geneva Sekula Geneva Sekula Hello, everyone, and welcome to another very special episode of Allens Confidential. Today is a particularly special episode. We're joined by Will Berthelot, who is a first year grad in our litigation team, and the reason it is so special is that, well, sadly for me, it's my last episode with the podcast, but, very happily for you and for Will, Will will be joining us as the new co-host, moving forward. So, a big welcome to Will!
Will Berthelot Thanks very much, Geneva. Very big shoes to fill this year on the podcast but looking forward to it.
Geneva Sekula Nice of you to say and of course I'm also joined by Caitlin, our sensational co-host, who has been battling through Covid with me, so, Caitlin, a big hello to you as well.
Caitlin Burke Hello. Hello, everyone. It's very special to be here for this passing of the torch. It's a sad day but a very exciting day as well.
Geneva Sekula It's bittersweet, I might say. Will, do you want to give a little bit of background on yourself. I mean, obviously, the first question we have to ask you is what podcasts you listen to but feel free to speak a bit more about your background. Maybe what uni you went to; how you came to be at Allens?
Will Berthelot Sure. So my podcasts are a bit embarrassing. I'm not a huge listener. The more normal one I listen to is You're Wrong About, which is just by two journalists in the US that talk about social issues or historical events that you might have the wrong perception of or recall, so, kind of, anything from OJ Simpson to Lindy Chamberlain to just current affairs or Princess Diana; things that are going on that you might have misremembered and they tell it in a very funny way, but the more lame one is this year I watched the entirety of The West Wing twice in lockdown, and I then listened to the accompanying podcast which details one-hour episodes for all seven series for each single episode. It goes through special guests and just talks about very niche details of every part of The West Wing. So that was most of my year this year listening to podcasts, but in terms of about me, I went to UNSW and I graduated at the end of 2019. I did an Arts Law degree, as many of the people that end up working here did.
Geneva Sekula Is it true of me?
Will Berthelot And back in the day, me and Caitlin did the summer clerkship together at the end of 2017 beginning of 2018, and I clerked through the Disputes team, which is where I am now, and Mergers and Acquisitions. Since then, I worked as a paralegal for a few years here, mostly in our Disputes team, and now I'm a baby first year lawyer in our Disputes team, having a great time, and next year, very excitingly, I'm going to be going on secondment to the Refugee Advice and Case Work Service, which is a pro bono partner of ours at Allens, for six months before returning to a yet unnamed team. So that's pretty much me.
Geneva Sekula Incredible. One of the first questions I want to ask you is what were you most wrong about that you have listened to, and you're, like, 'Oh man, like, I had no idea'?.
Will Berthelot There's a really good episode on this gorilla that learned sign language that I encourage you all to listen to
Caitlin Burke I know about that one
Geneva Sekula Do you, or are you wrong about it?
Caitlin Burke No, I know about that gorilla. Have I been scammed?
Will Berthelot It did not learn sign language, so you have to go listen to it. It is fascinating, like the fact that it could tell jokes, the fact that it communicated at all, was…
Caitlin Burke How did they orchestrate this ruse?
Geneva Sekula Were people just pretending? Like 'Hah hah, this funny joke that the gorilla told me.'
Will Berthelot It was, like, the footage that the trainer would share was highly edited and often was just mimicking what the trainer was doing to it, and it was, like, the way they explained it was like how parrots imitate talking; they're not constructing sentences, they're just repeating what people tell to them, so it wasn't really ascribing meaning to the language; the gorilla wasn't communicating in that sense but it was communicating the way that people could understand that it wanted food or that it wanted a hug or something, but it wasn't telling jokes to people and stuff.
Caitlin Burke Oh, I'm disappointed about that; oh, okay.
Will Berthelot It was very disappointing when I learned about that.
Caitlin Burke Everything I know is a lie.
Geneva Sekula You can't see Caitlin but she actually looks heartbroken.
Caitlin Burke I can't believe I watched many hours of footage of that gorilla, so okay…
Will Berthelot It's Koko the gorilla, if you want to look it up
Caitlin Burke Right, moving on. Well, we thought today that we would run through some questions that we have been given from our wonderful clerks this year, all about clerkships and starting out a law degree, and so we thought what better episode to do this on than the passing of the torch, as I said. So I might kick things off with our first question: if you had the chance to redo your law career from the start again, what would you do differently? Geneva, let's start with you.
Geneva Sekula Let's start with me; my favourite thing ever, just giving unsolicited advice. Well, today I guess it's actually solicited, but my day-to-day life it's just pouring out of me. If I had the chance to start over my law career, I would just, I think, chill out. Like, you come in guns blazing, you think you've got so much to prove, you think that you actually have to prove it straight away; like, if by the first week you haven't solved a multi-million-dollar litigation that somehow you're out on the streets, but it isn't like that; and, actually, everyone here at Allens, they want you to learn and they want you to enjoy yourself, and sometimes actually just putting the brakes on a little bit gets you there. It helps you to really focus on what you're doing; if you take out some of the panic, you'll find you'll be enjoying the day a bit more. So that would be definitely number one, and then I think the second point is I would value more how important it is just to have a good attitude. I think, again, you come in and you think 'Oh my God, if I don't remember this random case from 1989 that the High Court handed down about contract interpretation, then I'm a failure,' but, actually, people know that you have a lot to learn, because they've been doing their career for 20 years and you're just starting, so they know that. But what they want to know is that you're coming in with a good vibe, and you're willing to learn and you're eager, that actually goes so far. So I think I would say to my younger, gentler, more naive self, 'Just know those things and carry them forward with you.'
Caitlin Burke Yeah, totally. I think that's such a good point; the attitude thing. I think after a year of being here as a junior lawyer, it's something single-handedly that is the biggest asset that you can bring to a team, which might be a little bit heartbreaking when you're at the end of five years of law school, and you think you've got all this worldly knowledge and you're going to come barrelling in here and teach everyone what the new law is.
Geneva Sekula It's going to be Suits; so you're going to come in and you're going to be Mike and you're, like, 'I've got this memory and I know I saw this one thing once.'
Caitlin Burke Absolutely not. If you have a smile on your face and you're willing to get stuck in and apply yourself, then you'll bring so much value, just from that. So, I was going to say, if I had the chance to redo my law career, I don't think I would change a lot but I think that I would probably back myself a little bit more. I think that sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming or intimidating when you're in various different spaces, whether it be at uni or different kinds of work experience, or part-time work, or when you finally enter the full-time workforce in law to use your voice, particularly if you feel more junior, because it can be quite hierarchical. I think that what I've learnt is that it doesn't matter what level anyone's at, using your voice in a productive way to help other people understand different versions of Australia, or different versions of the law, is something that will always be formative to you, and to people around you. So, just to back yourself a bit more, I think.
Geneva Sekula So true and I think so many of us come into careers like this and are just immediately stricken by imposter syndrome, and you think no one else has ever felt the way you feel and you are like a little island of despair and panic, but actually a lot of people have similar feelings, and I think the best thing you can do is really talk to people, especially people in your cohort because they're going through something similar; it's a big adjustment moving from uni into full-time work. You're tired a lot because you haven't had to have this sustained mental energy for that level of time before and so I think – now, again, I'm continuing to give my unsolicited advice – but really lean on those friendships and those connections that you make because I think it's a really big comfort as well as a help, but it'll just make you feel better and know that you're all a team and in one spot together.
Caitlin Burke Yeah, 100%.
Will Berthelot Totally. I mean, that reminds me that a lot of those people that were really helpful for me in the clerkship were from very random places, like they were the people in your law camp group that you'd run into at the pub every now and then or down in the library; they are people from student societies and people you don't actually see all that often, but I feel that, sometimes, when you're looking for formal mentors to read over cover letters, it isn't going to be someone who immediately stands out. It's just those connections you made along the way, that were actually really useful to rack their brain about what the interview's going to be like or who a certain partner is that you're interviewing with; those things I thought were really useful and I'd definitely go back and think about doing that more when I was applying in the clerkship process.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, definitely. We're talking about at the beginning of the career; let's think about, now that we're in the career, think back, cast your minds back to clerkships – wasn't so long ago for you two, for me, slightly longer – was there anything in that time that you regret having done or regret having not done, you know, when you were a summer clerk.
Caitlin Burke So many things.
Will Berthelot There's an infinite list that springs to mind but one of the things that sprang to mind about maybe you regret, maybe you don't regret, I'm not sure which category it fits in, was this quite embarrassing story from mine and Caitlin's summer clerkship that I've only very recently fessed up to. So, in the Disputes team when you're a summer clerk, they like to get everyone involved and all of the juniors get together and have to perform at the Christmas Disputes practice group lunch. It's supposed to be a very light-hearted affair; there was someone in our clerkship group who it was totally their thing, so they kind of took control, they were, like, ready to come up with the song, they had the lyrics going, they had the choreography, they've got the music, loved it. Day of the performance at the practice group meeting, unnamed person emails around at midday being, like, 'Hey, guys, I'm feeling a bit sick, I might head home at lunch', and hands it unofficially over to me to deal with. I immediately go into, like, a four-hour-long public breakdown. The thought of having to pull this performance off in front of people I don't really know, and I'm trying to think of ideas, like, I'm texting my housemates being, like, 'What do I do, I don't know how to pull this off, I don't think I can do this'. They were, like, 'You'll be fine, you'll be fine', and I kind of resort to TV tropes in my head, being, like, I'm going to fake a phone call and get out of here. Very bizarrely I'm, like, 'OK', went to one of my housemates, 'You're just going to have to call me and pretend our shower is leaking'; I don't know why that excuse was needed.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, would that lure you home? 'There's water coming out of the shower.'
Will Berthelot Right, 'No-one can deal with it but you'. So I, like, walk out awkwardly into the lifts and, like, answer the phone weirdly, where no-one can hear me.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, there's no-one to verify that you need to leave.
Will Berthelot Exactly, like, I'm on the phone to my housemate, he's, like, 'I don't know what you want me to say to you to make this seem realistic.' Then, like, a minute later I walk back in, very red faced, being, like, 'Hey, guys, like, sorry, I have to, like, pick up my bags, shower's broken, I have to go home.' The grad opposite me is, like, 'You absolute joker, there is no way this is real,' and I send a quick message around to the rest of the clerks, 'Hey, team; sorry, got to duck out.'
Geneva Sekula Sorry, shower emergency.
Will Berthelot Best of luck! I never told them that that was fictitious, really really until now. If any of the clerks from 2017 are listening, I'm sorry, it wasn't my fault, I freaked out.
Geneva Sekula You just panicked.
Caitlin Burke I am so shocked at the lack of team-player attitude that you had in that instance but more so that you thought it was plausible that, of all the people that could help your housemate to fix a shower, they called you, like, do you have some sort of plumbing background? She was in the shower, and she was, like, 'It's leaking, I better call Will.'
Will Berthelot She was in the shower and it was leaking.
Geneva Sekula And then, walking out to the lift area on the phone is my favourite as well; like, everyone on the floor was watching this clerk being, like, 'It must be another shower leak, look at that distress, I can see this is a genuine emergency.'
Caitlin Burke I love that, I think that's an iconic admission.
Will Berthelot The execution was poor.
Geneva Sekula It was really poor.
Will Berthelot The idea had merit.
Geneva Sekula I'm glad for you that probation is over because this story really raises some questions for me.
Caitlin Burke You should have put that on your disclosures for your legal admission.
Will Berthelot I was thinking about it; I deceived my colleagues, very early.
Geneva Sekula Brazenly, and I just never fessed up until I was on a public forum.
Will Berthelot Caitlin, what about you, did you have any from back in the day?
Caitlin Burke I had one that's – I don't know whether I regret it, I think I've just got to lean into it. It is quite humiliating. Before my clerkship, my mum took me to Birkenhead Point; for those of you that aren't from Sydney, this is an outlet shopping centre, and she took me to get some shoes for my clerkship. I have quite large feet, so often outlet centres are really good, and we found a pair in my beastly size and it came in several colours, so this was like Christmas come early, I got them pink, navy, black, I got three pairs of these. I rock up and I reckon I look like a 21st century fox, everything is brand-new, starch everywhere, and these shoes, and the minute that the shoes hit the carpet in Allens, for some reason they make this kind of outrageously loud clicking noise every time I walk. I kind of thought, 'Okay,' I was an hour in, I was, like, 'This clerkship goes for three months,' like, there's no way I'm getting other shoes, like, I've got my shoes now.
Will Berthelot You've got three sets of them.
Caitlin Burke I've got three sets. So I was just, like, I'm just going to have to make this part of my personal brand, I'm going to be that clicky girl. I'd walk around – I think at one point I decided to try and mitigate the sound by walking a different way, which then I reckon ultimately had the effect of people thinking that the clicking was coming maybe from my hips, I don't know, but that was the mark that I left in my clerkship. Do I regret it; probably not, I've still got the shoes.
Geneva Sekula Do you still wear them?
Caitlin Burke I don't, but I don't have the heart to throw them away.
Geneva Sekula Can you wear them one day, I want to hear how loud it is.
Caitlin Burke I will.
Geneva Sekula Wear them tomorrow, I will be in tomorrow.
Caitlin Burke I will; okay, I'll wear them for you tomorrow.
Geneva Sekula I love that, you've got to lean in.
Caitlin Burke You've got to, you've got to embrace who you are.
Geneva Sekula I kind of would like to see that clicky gal be your personal brand forever, like, you could put it in your email signature.
Caitlin Burke The clicker.
Will Berthelot I think this is really a lesson to all clerks, don't worry about being weird on your first day because you will be but you'll survive.
Caitlin Burke You will be and, you know what, you will be but truly no-one else will notice. You think that the whole world is going to cave in around you and that every person on the floor is staring at you but, actually , people are at work so they're doing their jobs and not worrying about that kid that's sitting outside their office.
Will Berthelot You're not the main character in everyone's life, very sadly.
Caitlin Burke As much as we think you are personally, realistically you are part of a wider operation here, so just chill out.
Geneva Sekula My first day at Allens when I was doing the clerkship I got off the train at Wynyard and I was like Elle Woods arriving at Harvard, I was just, like, 'Yes, this is my moment,' there's, like, people flooding around me and I was, like, 'I look amazing in my corporate wear.' I didn't; it was, like, way too big, I looked really gangly, and I look at pictures now of then and I'm, like, 'Oh goodness, oh, babe.'
Caitlin Burke No, but you've got to embrace those moments of pride and live with them as well.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, I take back the question of regret, it's not about regretting, it's just about embracing, all your little quirks, being the main character in your life only, not everyone else's.
Will Berthelot Maybe moving back to the formal, professional side of Allens.
Caitlin Burke And doing our actual jobs.
Will Berthelot Questions from long-term listeners, first-time callers: in a difficult week, what keeps you motivated when work is being really busy, maybe you're having a hard time, what keeps your spirits up?
Geneva Sekula I think, for me, sometimes you've got a lot on. It happens and you don't always feel like doing it, but that also really happens to me quite a lot, but when it does happen you think 'God, how am I possibly going to get through this.' You kind of think 'Okay, I am part of a team, I've got a little piece of work, it's my work, if I don't do it it's not going to get done,' and you kind of feel a bit motivated and heartened by 'I want to do this for everyone else. I know they're doing their bit for me and I don't want to let them down.' I think knowing that you're part of a team, and part of a really supportive team, people are going to check in on you, they want you to be feeling well and happy and enjoying work. That sense of teamwork and camaraderie, for me really helps me to push through. It's kind of, like, 'Yeah I want to do the right thing by you guys, you're always doing the right thing by me', that makes me feel way better. I've told this story in the podcast before, you know, I had some crazy night where I had to do this thing and I just panicked and started crying and I was, like, 'What am I going to do, I'm never going to be able to do this.' It was my friends who came to the rescue and we all got it done together. In those moments, someone else lifted me up and kept me going, so I like to keep pushing forward because there's going to be a moment where I'm the person who lifts someone else up and we keep going together. I really like that sense of team, I guess.
Will Berthelot Yeah, totally. Caitlin, what about you?
Caitlin Burke Yeah, I would echo that. I think, like, any industry or any kind of work that involves teams and that involves kind of hard deadlines, sometimes long hours and intense cognitive loads, I suppose, knowing that other people are relying on you and that your work is valuable and needed is something that, I suppose, gets me over the line when it's at the eleventh hour and I don't have much energy left. It's the idea that you play a pretty critical role in a team no matter how junior or senior you are. The other thing, I think, is the fact that particularly in litigation, in the area of the law that I am currently in – there can be quite big bursts of activity, which mean that you might have a pretty intense week, and knowing that that's not permanent is really helpful as well. Because then the next week, it can really drop off. So it's a lot less consistent than perhaps some other jobs that I've had, but that's a great thing as well. You can be working really, really full on, and then the next week you might, you know, be able to leave earlier than a normal working day, or come in later or take time to kind of just chill out after a pretty big week. So, that sense of nothing is forever helps too. I would say exactly the same as Geneva, the number one thing is the people you work with.
Will Berthelot Definitely, I think working towards those deadlines. Especially in litigation, where often they're set by courts, they're kind of set far in advance and you know exactly when they are going to be. Working towards that in the team, as you said, Geneva, kind of gives you a bit of optimism, it's, like, 'Okay, we're nearly there,' or you know how far along in that project you are. Such that you know that afterwards your team's going to go out for lunch the next week or you know there is going to be something positive to look forward to. I think even simple things like that make it a lot easier to kind of cope with. Some of those long weeks on matters that might blow up at the last minute or you get a short deadline or things like that. But, definitely, I think the value of having friends and people you like around you, especially at a firm like Allens, where there is so many different types of personalities, there is bound to be someone you like, make it so much easier to work on those long weeks, I think.
Geneva Sekula The other thing too is, you know, you work on these projects and it doesn't really matter what team you are in, they might go for months, they might go for years, it's kind of cool, because you might get to the end of it and you read about it in the newspaper or something. Your friends message you and they're like 'Oh, I saw Allens did this,' like, 'Were you part of it?' and you kind of think – 'Yeah, I was part of that. You should be messaging me looking for the goss, which I can't give you.'
Will Berthelot That was all me. Laughter
Geneva Sekula I did it by myself. I was a team of one.
Caitlin Burke I am really surprised the newspaper haven't mentioned my name. I don't know, I will just call the editor.
Geneva Sekula I will just let them know that this level person was the one that engineered the whole thing. That in itself is also extremely satisfying.
Caitlin Burke Oh, it's super fulfilling. I think that's been one of the major things this year for me, working on a few matters that have had, like, pretty big public interest aspects and, like, that's the reason that you're here. That's the reason you go to law school is to be a part of that space and to try and work out – well, at least in litigation – to resolve disputes, but also to work with people to work out what's right and what's wrong. That's super exciting. I think a long night might happen once or twice, but then, at the end of the day, if you can look back and say I was part of that, that's really cool.
Geneva Sekula Yep, for sure.
Caitlin Burke For our final question, someone has written in and asked 'How frequently do you lean on your relationship with people in other practice groups'? Geneva, we will start with you.
Geneva Sekula Often, I would say. I think one of the great things about you come through the grad program and you form these really great relationships with people, and then you sort of move around the firm to different places, and then you end up settling in different places, so your cohort is, you know, spread out across every group. So, you know, I have had a matter recently that's been sort of M&A type work and I don't know a lot about that, so, you know, there has been a few times where I have had to put in a call or a Teams message to my friend to be, like, 'Hey, what does this word mean. I have googled it and I still don't really get it' and then she tells me in two seconds and I am like 'Ah, I see, this is why you are a good lawyer.' Being able to do that, I think, and this is one of the benefits of, you know, sort of a big firm, there is lots of expertise that you can really tap into. Instead of me spending 15 hours doing research into some area of law that I really don't need to have a super-deep knowledge of for the specific question that I have, to just pick up the phone and get the answer in five minutes is pretty special. I think what's great is they're your relationships and it's your network, and you think 'I haven't had to escalate this' or, you know, turn it into a big drama. I have just gone out, I have found the answer and now I am going to move on with my day. So, I sort of have pretty regular contact with people and groups for that exact reason. In that it's just more efficient for me, it's more efficient for our clients, and it's a really nice reflection of our cohort and where we have all ended up.
Caitlin Burke I think it's almost a nice reflection of, I would like to think, the legal profession more broadly. I would like to think that in years to come, when I become a grown-up, that I will be able to call my friends who are solicitors maybe at Allens, maybe in other places, and, you know, when I get a client or a query, or maybe some distant uncle at a barbecue asking me about his neighbour's fence, I can pick up the phone and find a lawyer with that kind of expertise, and I love that. I love the idea of that camaraderie in the profession. How about you, Will?
Will Berthelot Yeah, definitely. There has been a few times that I have seen on one of the corporate matters – the more corporate matters that I work on – that the partner in my matter says, 'Oh, I think so and so in this team actually did a matter kind of like this, maybe I will just pick up the phone and we will jump on a call with him,' and you see, even at the most senior levels, that that is still a thing that is happening. Because they start in the same grad group together, like 10 years ago, and they are still using the same thing. Personally, even in the interpersonal context, I really like having the other grads, just being social with them. I mean, we have a very lukewarm-ability social netball team, with many people in banking and finance, and other teams in the firm that we haven't really got to see recently just because of COVID, and, you know, you often just interact with people in your own practice group. I very much missed having a broad connection of friends in other teams, just because they do think differently to you. They do have different personalities that are naturally attracted to other teams, and it is really fun to hang out with those people and get to know them as well. That was really one of the big parts of what drew me to Allens was having a large grad cohort with really interesting people. Caitlin, have you had the same experience in some of your matters?
Caitlin Burke Yeah, I have. I think particularly with pro bono matters, it is really helpful because people just have a great attitude towards that. If I was to, you know, sometimes you get quite broad or random requests come through that aren't necessarily tailored to the specific area of law that you might be in, and I will pick up the phone and call friends in TMT. Like, I had one the other day where a privacy pro bono matter came through and I was able to just pick up the phone to someone that we clerked with in our technology team and they were able to assist with that privacy request. So it's a super-useful resource and something that I definitely hope I will continue to tap into.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, I think, actually, Will, that point about partners is so true. I think partners more than anyone tap into that because it's so easy for them to say, 'Oh, I know who knows exactly about this area,' and they sort of refer matters around. It is such a great part of being part of a network like this that we get to have so much experience and expertise in one place. I think that's really valuable and special, and when you're junior, to learn from that is incredible. I think you just learn so much every day without even necessarily knowing that you are doing it. Which is great. So, I think that's all the questions. I am sort of, like, extending it out because I don’t want to let go, but what a privilege it has been to be on the podcast. It's been so fun. Thank you, everyone, who's listened for my tenure on it. I am so pleased to be leaving the podcast in such wonderful and capable hands. So, Caitlin and Will, all the best and, everyone else, tune in next time for the new, rebranded Allens Confidential.
Caitlin Burke Thanks, Geneva, it's been absolutely amazing having you hand over this baby of yours and we very much look forward to having you on as a frequent guest.
Will Berthelot A special guest.
Geneva Sekula I will be creative consultant, I think. All right, thanks, everyone, tune in next time.
Will Berthelot Thanks, guys.