Allens Confidential podcast

Clerkships, as told by clerks 

Want to know what being a clerk at Allens is really like? Former summer clerks Georgie Kilborn and Xander Jackman do a deep dive into their experiences, telling us all about what they found most surprising and most daunting.

Our former clerks also give invaluable advice to students who are considering applying – including what they themselves would have done differently, and to expect the unexpected when it comes to interview questions.

What did we talk about?

  • Clerkships preconceptions vs reality
  • What to expect in the interviews 
  • Tips for success 

This episode is part of our 2019 series.

Listen to the episode

Read the transcript

Roseanna Bricknell This episode we're joined by two of our new summer clerks, Xander Jackman and Georgie Kilborn, to give us some insights into their parts of the firm. This is your guide to a life in corporate law. I'm Rosanna Bricknell, joining my co‑host, Geneva Sekula, and this is 'Allens Confidential'.

Geneva Sekula Georgie and Xander, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourselves; introduce yourselves; tell us a little bit about how you came to be in this delightful, slightly underground recording studio?

Georgie Kilborn  Well, thank you for having us. So, I'm Georgie. I'm a very new face here, as you've said. I'm from Melbourne originally, yeah, not very interesting in terms of your other guests, I'd say, just a student; still studying, doing my post-grad juris doctorate at Melbourne and here for the summer; very excited to be here.

Roseanna Bricknell Welcome! What about you, Xander, a little bit less of a fresh face.

Xander Jackman  Yeah, no, I've been around the traps for two years as a paralegal. I was actually thinking – reflecting this morning on how I'm still here. There was one story, just as I started as a paralegal, and it was just as we were getting rid of our library at the time and we were donating quite a few books to another law firm, which, of course, required a phalanx of paralegals to go and deliver eight full heavy trolley loads down the road, and there was a paralegal at the time by the name of Cat – who is still here – she's a grad, so she didn’t lose her job over it and neither did I, obviously. But she – we were crossing the road with trolleys and there are obviously varying degrees of trolleys that you can get – some heavy-duty off-road ones and other more sort of light‑weight cruisers, and unfortunately she was stitched up with the more light‑weight one and it got caught on the side of the road and, of course, I'd just crossed the road, so I went back to help her and lift it up on top of the kerb, and I forgot that we were on top of a hill, and my trolley had a dicky right wheel and just started to veer down the hill and onto careering traffic on Hunter Street but, fortunately, it went straight into a telegraph pole – no books were harmed in the making of that story.

Roseanna Bricknell And if it wasn’t for that pole, you might not be here?

Xander Jackman  Yes, I'd be fielding quite a large bill for a van or something.

Geneva Sekula For what's it worth, I don’t think you're alone. I'm pretty sure every paralegal has a story like that. Before we get too deep into the chat, we have to ask you both, what is your favourite podcast?

Georgie Kilborn  Well, I'll be very honest – I'm probably not a regular listener of podcasts – I do listen to a lot of music but I – well, I did listen to the Allens Confidential podcast, of course, but that was probably a little bit superstitious of me in the lead-up to the recruitment process – you know, you never know if it's going to be linked or anything.

Geneva Sekula You're exactly the target market, so we're currently quietly stoked. So what is on heavy rotation on your Spotify?

Georgie Kilborn  Oh, Spotify? Anything upbeat. I love to go to the gym so it's a little bit of techno probably; a little bit of house – anything that gets me moving after work, so, yep. And then other than that, I listen to a little bit of Coffee Break French to improve my increasingly rusty French language skills.

Geneva Sekula How about you, Xander?

Xander Jackman  I used to be an addict of true crime.

Geneva Sekula What do you mean 'used to'?

Roseanna Bricknell It's Geneva's favourite. This comes up every episode, I swear. Every day. It is from the law or …

Xander Jackman  It's just that there's never a conclusion.

Geneva Sekula What do you mean? You mean, like, cold-case files or something?

Xander Jackman  Well, I'm just feeling sorry for Adnan Syed, who's probably still locked up and he hasn’t – he hasn’t found justice yet.

Roseanna Bricknell Didn't they re‑open the trial out of that podcast?

Xander Jackman  Yeah, no, I went back and listened to them but I don’t think they succeeded. It was on a very – I think it was like the fifth appeal point or something.

Geneva Sekula Still, sometimes the story was just, like, oh, there was a bad person; they did something bad and then they got in trouble for it and now they are in trouble for it and you're, like, oh, good. This is what they said. But it also sounds a bit like why you became a lawyer? Justice system.

Okay. I think you should give true crime another go but we will talk about that later.

Roseanna Bricknell Maybe you need, like, a commercial law podcast and maybe this one is the one for you.

Xander Jackman  Well, I think I've found it.

Geneva Sekula You're on it!

Georgie Kilborn  Like you said when we were preparing for it – your big break.

Geneva Sekula So, I guess, I'd love to hear from both of you about your experience in getting to be at Allens.

Georgie Kilborn  Your actual big break. So sorry.

Roseanna Bricknell I feel like you're applying more and more pressure.

Geneva Sekula So, I guess, we'd love to know, you know, what was it about Allens that meant that you chose to come here and how did you get to be here and I know, Georgie, you're from Melbourne – so that's actually a physically big journey to get here, so we'd love to hear more about that.

Georgie Kilborn  Sure. Well, I guess, coming from Melbourne, as you said, I had to be a little bit selective in terms of just deciding which firms I would apply to, so, for me, Allens always stood out I guess from the reputations when you hear about while you are at university, and I think probably from the very get-go I started at law school, I always wanted to come to Allens; it was always a bit of a dream. You hear about your professors that you look up to – they always seem to have commenced their career at Allens, so in that sense you hear about the training and it's just a place you really want to come to and all your peers equally want to be there. And then, earlier this year, I attended the Allens Linklaters roadshow and that sort of reinforced my desire to come here. I heard a lot about Allens' unique position in the Australian legal market and how it's obviously a pre‑eminent law firm, but having that amazing global alliance with Linklaters was something that stood out to me. I've had a little bit of an international upbringing, so, I guess, obviously the move to Sydney was one that – I mean, I want to be here for a while but knowing that, later down the track, there are potential opportunities to go on secondment, and even potentially later on to move overseas with that, so that was pretty unique. Yeah, that's perhaps what drove me to come here to Sydney in particular. I mean, that's probably more of a personal thing – just wanting a bit of a move. I've always moved around a lot and, I mean, ordinarily I'd say the weather but today is not really proving itself.

Roseanna Bricknell Sydney is better than Melbourne, though. On average; we promise.

Xander Jackman  Well, from my perspective, as I mentioned, I've already been here for two years and that initial shift into Allens was as simple as meeting someone at a networking – I guess a reunion – dinner, who was working here and I just got on really well with him and I mentioned that I was studying law, and so he said, well, when you're thinking about starting a career and, you know, applying what you're learning at uni, then definitely consider Allens, and so I put my hat in the ring for a paralegal gig and it paid off, and I've loved it ever since. Obviously, midway through the year with the clerkship applications, that, I guess, posed another stage in career progression and I certainly wasn’t resting on my laurels, and that all the paralegals naturally have to go through the same processes as non‑paralegals in applying for clerkships – but just going through that process really confirmed to me what I loved about Allens, in that I applied to other firms and had really positive experiences going through the process there as well, but just the fact that – the fact that I'd loved my time at Allens so much, and everyone I had encountered was striving for excellence but doing so in an understated way. I think that really appealed to me, and there are some firms that like to get, I guess, high and mighty about their culture and why their people are better than people at other firms.

Roseanna Bricknell Not to name names.

Xander Jackman  Definitely not. I am sure we would be able to defend ourselves if anything.

Geneva Sekula It just wouldn't make it through post-production.

Roseanna Bricknell That's just speaking the truth.

Xander Jackman  Whereas Allens, it doesn't necessarily lambast any of that, I think. There is no carry-on about what we are about here because I think everyone's just quietly confident that what we do here is really worthwhile, and the people that make up this place often stick around for quite a long time because it's just a great working environment.

Geneva Sekula That makes me feel good about my choice all over again. I do like my job very much.

 I was going through my emails trying to – just my normal personal email account trying to find something from when I clerked. I found this email from P&D sort of a few years ago and I was, like, oh yeah, I applied for a paralegal position at Allens but I was not successful. So I am glad it didn't deter me and I am glad that I ended up here in the end. It's nice to know that there are different channels to ending up at Allens and there is sort of not only one path that you can follow.

Roseanna Bricknell Sometimes people do just fall through the cracks.

Geneva Sekula I crept through like a spider. Saw the cracks straight through.

 I guess I would love to know a bit more as well about your actual experience with the clerkship process. How you found it. Was there anything that surprised you about going through, and not necessarily just with Allens but, also about Allens, but sort of more broadly; how did you find that process?

Georgie Kilborn  I had a couple of surprises, I guess. Some specific to Allens as well, in that sense you've discussed previously on other podcasts, and maybe a little bit about the preconception of Allens being a conservative law firm. I guess I maybe thought something along those lines until I began the clerkship process, and from the get-go, from the first cocktail event, I was pleasantly surprised how friendly and approachable everyone was, quite down to earth and eager to talk on a number of different topics, but equally about themselves. Just their willingness to answer any of your questions. It was a big surprise for me. I wasn't expecting that at all. Another surprise was actually how much I did enjoy the clerkship process, and in particular with Allens. I am not just saying that because I am here. It was just the communication from the beginning was amazing, even from HR just wanting to answer any questions, and just reaching out to you constantly and letting you know what the process is up to. Because it is quite a lengthy process and not ever having gone through it before, a lot of clerks are at a loss at where we are at. Is it first-round interviews, have I got through to the second stage, and just knowing a bit more about the deadlines and having my questions answered was really great and made it even more enjoyable. Then the enjoyment also came from just being able to talk to a lot of lawyers and hear about their individual trajectories, and I guess I have done a lot of mentoring programs before and I have always really enjoyed talking to people, and it was just another opportunity to talk to people while still doing a bit of uni on the side. That's probably my two biggest takeaways.

Xander Jackman  I definitely have to agree on that approachability point. Already having worked here, I knew that the partners weren't these sort of deities that you could only bow down to and you couldn't look them in the eyes when you spoke to them. At the same time, it can be very daunting meeting these leaders in practice. I think, as well, one thing that surprised me with it, a lot of people who interviewed me and who I just met at cocktail functions – they really didn't see it as a clerkship process. They saw it as just a genuine way, I think, for us to explore a lot more about ourselves. It's funny after being at university for five years, and particularly in the law school, just having your head down and just concentrating on getting good marks, and then after four years, looking at your CV and having to talk about things that you have done over those past four years, and so little of the conversations that I had were focused around marks. They were mainly around 'Oh wow, can you please contribute to our ski team. We haven't won that in a while'.

Roseanna Bricknell The ski team?

Geneva Sekula There you go.

Roseanna Bricknell Maybe awareness is one of their problems.

Xander Jackman  They just really wanted to know what I was interested in beyond what I really wanted to do. Because I think you have got to understand who you are and what you stand for before you can necessarily say that you full-on want to be a commercial lawyer. I think they were drilled, or in trying to find that answer as to who I was, and what my approach was, rather than oh yes, I definitely want to be working on the Royal Commission.

Geneva Sekula So then, how did you find the interviews? So, you found it a bit straightforward or a good opportunity to talk about yourself; it was pretty casual?

Xander Jackman  Very casual, very casual, and I think they prefaced the interviews by saying this isn't going to be a sort of panel interrogation of you and what you have done for an hour. It's going to be us just finding out about you. At the end of the day, these are seriously important and highly paid people taking an hour out of their day to talk to potential clerks and so they don't want to, I guess, make that hour too arduous. They are very happy to let the conversation flow and, hopefully, learn something.

Georgie Kilborn  Yeah absolutely.

Xander Jackman  From a measly uni student.

Georgie Kilborn  No, I would agree with that. I guess, having interviewed with a couple of firms, they all seem to preface their interviews as being a conversational chat and would often turn into a bunch of behavioural questions. So I was quite ready to come into Allens and answer a heap of behavioural questions and leave with a massive headache, but I was so surprised that it was an absolute chat, and I came away feeling like I had just had coffee with two amazing people. Just discussed a variety of topics and not necessarily related to law, just interests outside of that. It was just really enjoyable.

Geneva Sekula Certain uni subjects that you have taken that you might want to talk about because they sound really interesting?

Georgie Kilborn  Maybe. I had one particular question that was also a surprise in my interview, was one of the partners scrolled down my transcript and picked out a subject. I was, like, uh-oh, this is probably going to be my worst mark, here we go, prepare an answer quickly. 'Oh, so I see you studied Australia in the wine world. So, do you want to talk to that a bit?' 'Sure, absolutely, a bit of a passion'. Yeah, so that was quite a surprise, and I think they were also surprised how much I enjoyed talking about that topic, but anyway.

Roseanna Bricknell To be honest, it is probably a great idea. Oh, let me walk into an interview and talk about wine. Is that ever a loser.? It's 10 o'clock in the morning, but, you know, I can't do it without the actual experience.

Geneva Sekula It's 5pm somewhere. What does the subject actually entail?

Georgie Kilborn  Yeah, you could either do it remotely at one of Melbourne University's external campuses or you could do it at actual university, which I happened to do, and it really entailed tasting wine at about 10am in the morning.

Geneva Sekula The dream, you are living it.

Georgie Kilborn  A bit of snobbery talking about notes of blackberry and toasted marshmallows but it was really the best subject, definitely, in my undergrad anyway.

Roseanna Bricknell Probably really set you up to impress people at, like, Christmas lunches as well.

Georgie Kilborn  But you've still got to keep a bit, you know, understated and pretend you're a student because you don't want to come off as an absolute wine snob either.

Roseanna Bricknell There's a real risk.

Geneva Sekula In a good way, because I don't know anything about wines, so when we go out I rely on her.

Roseanna Bricknell Try and dig yourself out of that hole.

Geneva Sekula I am; I just said I rely on you and you glossed right over it.

Roseanna Bricknell

 Thank you, I'm not really sure how to take that, so moving on.

 You've now been at the firm for not that long, but long enough to have a sense; please, will you tell us about your first impressions. What do you think so far about the couple of days you've had, the work you've been given?

Xander Jackman  I was really humbled by the fact that, over the past few weeks, lawyers, associates, senior associates, partners, had all sort of put some work aside for us and it's all the really interesting work. I sort of came in thinking that oh yeah, fair enough, we're going to be put through our paces, a lot of doc review, that's just the nature of being at the bottom of the ladder, and yet they have reserved all of these really interesting research tasks for us and given themselves all of the stitch-up jobs.

Roseanna Bricknell Well, so far, don't speak too soon.

Georgie Kilborn  I'd say, probably just reinforcing, what we realise going through the clerkship process was just how everyone is really eager to help you out and answer any of your questions and super friendly. Then we've also had a little bit of exposure now to the non-siloed approach at Allens and just being able to receive work from everyone and that just means a lot of lawyers are a little bit specialised in their areas, so you do get quite a variety of work and often covering different topics, which I'm thoroughly enjoying.

Geneva Sekula People actually do get so excited for the clerkship.

Roseanna Bricknell I love it, it's so much fun, everyone is energetic and you're kind of on the wind-down into Christmas.

Georgie Kilborn  Yeah, there's a lot of social stuff already.

Roseanna Bricknell Absolutely.

Geneva Sekula There really is a lot of, like, this would be such a good task to give a summer clerk, I'll just put that away for a little bit and see how it goes. Hopefully, you continue to enjoy all the work that you get given that's been tucked away because the idea is that you'll enjoy doing it.

Roseanna Bricknell You know what, if you don't, that's good, this is a testing time, right.

Geneva Sekula So you can learn, okay, in the future, I want to steer clear.

Roseanna Bricknell Excellent; well, we probably need to start wrapping it up but, before we go, last piece of advice: could you tell us if there is something you might have done differently during the clerkship process, or any advice that you have to give to people who are embarking on that process in the future?

Georgie Kilborn  My personal advice would have been to probably keep up my university commitments as I went along with the clerkship process because I got a little bit carried away with it.

Geneva Sekula Attending class.

Georgie Kilborn  It was a bit difficult coming from Victoria, I like to justify it on that basis.

Geneva Sekula That's actually fair enough, if you're not physically there.

Roseanna Bricknell To be frank, attending class wasn't something I stopped doing just because of the clerkship process when I was going through uni, I'd already stopped well before then.

Georgie Kilborn  That was more personal, anyway. My advice would be – it's probably going to make all your listeners cringe and never listen to you guys again, so sorry about this – but I think just being yourself is really, really important, and it comes across in interviews and just even at the cocktail events, anyone can tell whether you're trying to suck up to someone, or you are just genuinely open and eager to hear about their individual stories. Also, to go into it and just believe in yourself, and I think if you go in with the mindset that you'll do the best that you can do, then when you walk away from any of those recruitment events, then you won't ever feel disappointed, and you can literally just relax and go for the ride, as clichéd as that does sound, I'm sorry.

Geneva Sekula I feel like once you live it, though, then you really are, like, oh yeah; okay, I get it.

Roseanna Bricknell This is said all the time because it's true.

Georgie Kilborn  Yeah, exactly.

Xander Jackman  I think, certainly along a similar line to Georgie regarding university, it could be a double-edged sword. I certainly didn't think ahead and download any subjects or do winter school in preparation or pick an elective, and I certainly gave myself a hard task when it came to exam time in November in just coping with a full load after giving up uni for two months during the clerkship process.

Roseanna Bricknell Lovely 100% exams.

Xander Jackman  Yeah, just my favourite. At the same time, I think don't necessarily change your life around the clerkship process because I think, as we've sort of emphasised, it really is – it's not the be all and end all. It's a good opportunity to get your foot in the door into the commercial law world, but I think if you overthink or overstress it or put it on too much of a pedestal, then that's when I think you can go awry because you put too much pressure on yourself, and anyone who had to plough through Hamlet at high school surely knows what the dangers of overthinking things are.

Geneva Sekula Good analogy.

Roseanna Bricknell Possibly the most highbrow way you could have explained it.

Xander Jackman  Another way to potentially look at it is, there's a great Italian idiom that they use in the mountains.

Geneva Sekula Much less highbrow.

Georgie Kilborn  I was worrying about everyone cringing.

Roseanna Bricknell I feel, like, please tell me that the rest of that story is, I learnt it when I was skiing there.

Xander Jackman  No comment. Anyway, I'll tell it but it will most likely be edited out, but it goes along the lines of [speaking Italian], which translates to 'the goat is skinny but the ram still stinks'.

Geneva Sekula Now I understand.

Xander Jackman  When, you know, you're flat out and things aren't going terribly well and you're feeling a little bit skinny on life and you're overstretched, the ram will always still stink, things will still go on and – I don't suggest stinking yourself, I think keep up showers, no matter how stressed you are but…

Roseanna Bricknell

 I'd be surprised if this makes it through the editing process.

Xander Jackman  But, yeah. Don't overthink it.

Roseanna Bricknell You learn something new every day, and what I learned was some Italian I've immediately forgotten.

Geneva Sekula Well, thank you both so much for joining us today. I think it's really great to hear about your experience and, certainly from our perspective, we're really happy that you had a good experience with Allens and that you chose to come here.

Roseanna Bricknell See, standards are low.

Geneva Sekula On this podcast certainly, not in the broader firm. But it's been wonderful chatting to you guys and we really hope you enjoy the rest of your time here. Always feel free to reach out to us and other lawyers, and enjoy.

Roseanna Bricknell We're delighted you've joined us.

Georgie Kilborn  Thanks so much for having us.

Xander Jackman  Thank you very much.

Roseanna Bricknell Thanks for listening.

About the presenters: Roseanna Bricknell & Geneva Sekula

Roseanna joined Allens as a clerk in 2014 and was a lawyer in the Competition, Consumer and Regulatory and Disputes and Investigations teams. She lives for the Good Weekend Quiz and has developed a good working knowledge of Summer Olympics host cities because questions on that topic come up a lot. She now works in Civil Regulation at the Australian Government Solicitor. 

Geneva is a Senior Associate in our Disputes and Investigations team. She loves brunch, dogs, Netflix marathons, and giving unsolicited advice. A graduate of the University of Sydney, she clerked at Allens in Sydney in 2015 before joining the firm as a nervous but enthusiastic graduate in 2017.

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