Pre-application: preparing yourself for the road ahead
What can you expect?
Applying for legal clerkships is a competitive process. Depending on the firm's size, you'll likely be applying alongside hundreds or even thousands of other applicants, many of whom are as qualified and highly motivated as yourself.
Pace yourself throughout the application period
Clerkship applications open in line with the law society guidelines (eg Law Institute of Victoria, Law Society of New South Wales etc) and what's involved in the process may differ across firms. Doing your research into key dates and each firm's requirements is important so that you can manage your time, pace yourself and set achievable goals. The Allens process is outlined here.
Quality applications require resilience and self-awareness
Most firms require documentation outlining, among other things, why you want to practise law and your interest in commercial law and the particular firm specifically. You might also be required to talk about your passions, strengths or opinions on the legal industry (all in under 300 words!). I hope Your clerkship companion will help you maximise the opportunity to reflect on your experiences and increase your confidence.
You are embarking on a popular (but not the only) route of obtaining a job
It's good to remember that the clerkship process is only one way of finding a job after university. Clerkships are just one pathway into a large or mid-sized corporate law firm. It's natural to feel down on the clerkship application process if you've put time and energy into it and don't land any offers. Once again, I hope that with these articles you'll benefit from the process, whatever its outcome.
Questions to consider
What's motivating you to undertake the clerkship process?
Is there a particular firm or area of law you're interested in, or are you only applying because it's expected?
What does your schedule across the clerkship recruitment period look like?
Is there anything you have to say no to because of applying for a clerkship? Would doing so be worth it?
Choosing firms to apply for
Many people say that quality trumps quantity when it comes to clerkship applications. However, given the number of applicants, and the number of firms eager for quality applicants, quantity is almost as important as quality. Therefore you're best placed for success by submitting a reasonable number of thoughtful, tailored and error-free applications.
A reasonable number of applications depends on how much time and energy you can devote to the process – one person might apply to five firms, another to 20 plus. Here are some things for you to think about:
Commercial or not?
Most clerkships are offered at commercial law firms. Others are boutique firms specialising in other areas of law such as personal injury, family or criminal law. If you're on the fence about whether commercial law is for you, there are several reasons why you should consider applying anyway:
Commercial law is a catch-all phrase for many types of law (litigation, technology, intellectual property, corporations law etc), so there's a reasonable chance you'll find an area that appeals to you.
It's challenging to know whether you're interested in or should rule out a particular area of law while you're still at university.
Commercial law is generally a helpful pathway, even if you decide further down the track that it's not for you.
Applying for clerkships forces you to consider what type of law you might be interested in, which is helpful even if you eventually decide against commercial law or are unsuccessful in getting a clerkship.
Size and type of firm
There are distinctions within commercial law firms so it's important to ask yourself:
Are you looking to work overseas?
Are you more interested in international-facing matters or in an Australia-specific law, such as workers' compensation?
Would you thrive in a structured environment or prefer a more relaxed approach to learning and development?
Do you prefer to be trained within a large or small graduate group?
What type of lifestyle do you want?
Even tentative answers will be helpful in shortlisting firms to apply for. Not thinking about these questions can mean applying broadly across all tiers and types of firms, only to burn out. A lack of strategy can also result in errors and a generic writing style.
One approach is to divide firms into general categories – international, national, top-tier, specialised, mid-tier, etc and submit two or three quality applications within each category. This can be helpful if you're unsure exactly what type of firm you're looking for. You can hit multiple bases while protecting yourself from exhaustion.
Who do you know at those firms?
It might be helpful to look at applying to firms where people you know have worked. Consider:
How do they talk about certain aspects of the firm?
Are there unique aspects of the firm that you're attracted to? Can you flag this in your clerkship application?
Are there aspects of the firm that put you off?
You might have wondered whether to engage in 'name dropping' – ie naming someone you know in your application. Would you feel comfortable if the person reading it contacts the person you've mentioned and asks them about you? If you wouldn't, don't mention them.
What have you heard or read about those firms?
The focus here is on the firm's general reputation rather than a specific person's experience. Consider:
Has the firm done something recently that you admired?
Has it done the opposite, leaving you with a negative impression?
Does the firm have a general reputation or feel?
When you think of the firm, do specific adjectives come to mind? Are they positive?
All the above tips assume that you have a certain degree of choice and confidence when planning your career; it's completely normal if you don't. However, any amount of considering your interests, ambitions and plans will go a long way in helping you whittle down the extensive list of firms, to craft quality applications and to avoid burnout.
Who can help you through this process?
One of the biggest highlights of the clerkship process can be the introduction to supportive and generous contacts in the legal industry. If you don't know any lawyers, you might have to look outside your immediate social circles to find people willing to provide industry insights and guidance.
Distinguishing between firms is much easier if you can have informal conversations with those who have gone before you — either peers who've clerked in previous years or lawyers with a few more years in the game. Speaking to them can help you gain a more profound impression of a firm than you would through merely reading its website.
At Allens, you can also get in touch with the Early Careers team with any questions and make use of resources such as our Allens Confidential podcast and the Life at Allens student newsletter.
Building a network of individuals
Brainstorm a list of people you currently know in the legal industry and where they work. Include those who are acquaintances or friends of friends! Don't worry if the initial list is short or contains people you don't really know.
Peruse your law student society resources including podcasts, clerkship guides, seminars, and panels. Make a list of names from firms that you're interested in.
Work out the best way to connect with the people in steps one and two. Is this via LinkedIn or by emailing their work addresses?
Before reaching out, consider the following:
What do you want to find out about them?
What could they help you with?
What could you help them with?
When framing your connection request, articulate who you are and why you're interested in their work, and politely request some time to discuss these interests. Below is an example of a connection request:
I hope you are well. By way of introduction, my name is Daniel and I am a penultimate year law student from Sydney University, about to embark on the clerkship process. I heard you speak on the Sydney University Law Society podcast on mental health in the legal industry, which I found fascinating. I've been thinking hard about the topic, particularly as a soon-to-be grad, and wonder if I could pick your brain on this topic, and on your life as a lawyer in general? I would be really appreciative of 20 minutes of your time. Please let me know if you'd be up for it and, if so, when it might suit you to meet.
If they accept your request, ask them questions that will help you get a feel for their firm. These could include:
What does a day in their life look like?
Did they have opportunities to clerk or work elsewhere? Why have they settled where they did?
What aspects of work do they find challenging?
What aspects of work do they love?
What type of support does their workplace offer?
During your conversation, if your questions weren't addressed (eg if it turns out they don't work in a practice group you're especially interested in), ask them if they know other people who might be happy to speak to you.
Consolidate your list from point seven.
Repeat points four to eight.
What help could you receive?
You can receive valuable insights that help form a view of a particular firm. Some people you speak with might be happy for you to mention them in your application documents, while some might agree to review your application documents and provide feedback. The end result of either is a more tailored, confident clerkship application with a higher chance of standing out.
Many law students are nervous about reaching out to acquaintances or contacts in the legal industry. However, you can ensure the conversation is valuable by firmly establishing your motivations for reaching out in the first place and ensuring you have a genuine spark of interest before making the connection. This way, you protect both your time and theirs.