EVIDENCE OF a revival in graduate programs is mounting as law firms prepare to take on fewer summer clerks this year.
A Lawyers Weekly survey of Australia’s 20 largest firms found that most opted against boosting vacancies this summer for the highly sought-after placements, despite record numbers of applications from students.
Gilbert + Tobin, which offered 18 clerkships this summer compared to 22 in 2002-03, attributed the decrease to a desire to leave room for graduates. Human Resources director Carmel Harrington admitted that “things had tightened up a bit”.
“Lately we have been using our summer clerkship program as the only source to recruit at graduate level, which left us with no capacity to look at graduates — who may have been unavailable at the time due to travel or other commitments,” she said. “Some of the graduates we’ve had applying to us boast fantastic credentials, but there’s been no room left for them.”
A decade ago recruitment at the junior level was almost exclusively conducted post graduation. Since then, summer clerkships have boomed in popularity. Now, very few firms offer vacancies to those who did not participate in the placements, which usually extend the four to six week holiday period prior to a student’s final year of study.
But according to Harrington’s observations, the pendulum was beginning to shift again — this time towards a common ground within which both graduates and penultimate year students may be accommodated.
One firm to already add graduates to its ranks is Gadens, which, coincidentally, will maintain only six summer clerks this year — the same as 2002. HR head Jane Bury toyed with the idea that the well-recognised downturn in the economy — and subsequently corporate work generally — was taking its toll on larger rivals, but couldn’t be sure.
Along with national counterparts Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Allens Arthur Robinson decreased offers this year, said a spokesperson for the 2003 Australian Law Firm of the Year, franking Bury’s suspicions by adding: “It’s fair to say that overall the number of offers made this year is down from a couple of years ago because of the sluggish business environment and the fact that there is not a large amount of movement of lawyers internally.”
President of NSW Young Lawyers Andrew Perry was caught by surprise upon hearing that firms were downsizing clerkship offers, having based his views on diminished evidence of graduate programs at this year’s Sydney Law Careers Fair. Furthermore, he believed anecdotal evidence was showing a much-welcome upturn in the market.
“I would have thought legal services are beginning to pick up a little. Things have generally been busier,” the Gadens partner said. “Even so, the quiet times are generally the least expensive to train talent further.”