Jonathan Augustus, president of the Australian Law Students Association, gives our up-and-coming lawyer readers some exclusive insights into gaining a law firm clerkship
Clerkship season is just like Christmas shopping; there is always a gigantic rush towards closing time – so make sure you don’t get stuck at the last minute. It’s important to carefully research all the firms to find out which ones are most suited to you and what they are looking for in a seasonal clerk.
Going into the process with nothing but enthusiasm (although a necessary feature) will be like being lost inside a giant department store. Having direction and knowing key features of firms will make your resume stand out; it will prevent you from getting lost in a sea of seemingly identical law firms and get you to the proverbial checkout on time. Such preparation will also ensure that you apply for firms that you can actually see yourself working in long-term … and that’s the whole point of this process.
Don’t feel obliged to have everything worked out to a tee. It is not a pre-requisite to have a five year plan and to know exactly what type of law you want to practice, however it is good to have an interest in a particular type of law, which you should note in your cover letter.
That brings us to the critical part – your cover letter and CV. In your cover letter it is best to express why a particular firm stands out to you and why you would be an asset to their team. Do not send a generic cover letter! It’s very obvious and will often result in a (just as generic) polite rejection letter. Cover letters and CVs should be carefully checked over by yourself, a parent, friend and maybe even a careers counsellor. It is crucial that there are no spelling/grammar mistakes and that there is a keen attention to detail.
Make sure that you send the right cover letter to the right firm and double check that you have referred to the correct Human Resources Manager (find and replace is great, but not fool proof!). It is important to focus on work experience, extracurricular activities and academic achievements. Focus on achievements that demonstrate core requirements a law firm is looking for: leadership skills, communication skills, ability to work as an individual and as part of team, to name a few. Emphasise any work experience in the legal sphere (though don’t stress out if you don’t have any) and provide a list of skills you gained on the job.
The interview process is a lot like going on a first date. You get all dressed up (in a suit preferably), you practice impressing the other party with your dazzling wit and academic prowess and eat and drink sparingly (to minimise awkward situations). You are both sizing each other up – after all, it’s all about impressing each other. Whilst interviews are often conversational, you will likely also be asked behavioural questions, (ie. pointed questions probing your behaviour in specific employment-related situations) so make sure you bring back each question to a skill, competency or why you want to work for the firm. Know your CV and cover letter well and be prepared to elaborate on its content. Like a first date, back your form up with substance and you’ll have a better chance at securing a second!
Clerkships are a great way to open doors for a budding lawyer – but remember, there are other ways to land graduate employment, so don’t stress. Good luck!
Jonathan Augustusis the President of the Australian Law Students’ Association, as well as being the former President of the Melbourne University Law Students’ Society and the President of the Victorian Council of Law Students’ Societies. He has completed clerkships both in Australia and overseas and wishes all students luck in their applications.