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Clerkship conundrum

Clerkship conundrum

Applying for a clerkship is time consuming, stressful and is often accompanied by disappointment or elation. Reyna Ge shares how she sought to stay positive.

The Process. For those law students who elect to apply for a clerkship, the term represents a period often characterised by pressure, anxiety and dread.

There is no point disguising the truth.

The three months between July and September – from close of applications to offer date – can be a hard slog, and this is on top of those months of drafting applications, attending information presentations and researching firms.

It’s not all negative, of course.

The firms do not hold out on trying to impress their candidates.

They aim to dazzle with all the glitz and glamour of the legal industry. Lavish cocktail evenings, gorgeous 360 degree views and lunches at swanky restaurants are just some examples of the lengths the law firms go to in order to secure their choice clerks.

Truly, this is a courtship of the highest degree. It is an intense love-hate relationship, which puts each applicant through seemingly endless hoops to assess the elusive and undefined ‘cultural fit’ of each person.

And with every year, The Process gets tougher. The reasons are simple: the number of law students has increased, whilst the number of clerkships offered has decreased.

 Just a bit of logic will lead to the conclusion that this means a tougher gig for all those aspiring corporate lawyers out there.

Competition is fierce, and it’s not going to get easier.


Up and down

This is the point where I feel it’s necessary to acknowledge that not every law student will go through The Process.

Part of the beauty of law school is the fact that people have diverse interests and passions. You are no less brilliant or remarkable if you decide to take your talents to another field of law, or another industry.

For me, I decided that I’d give applying for corporate law a go. This was a measured decision on my part, after a number of conversations with older law students for a couple of years. Of course, this is not by any means the rule – some decide to apply on a whim, while others plan for The Process from the moment that they enter law school.

Everyone’s reasons for applying are different.

But what all candidates go through is largely the same.

First is the online application, then the calls and emails for first round interview offers, the information session evenings, the first round interviews themselves, the buddy coffees and tours…it’s a marathon.

No matter how brilliant you are, you go through each step.

It is a difficult period, because life doesn’t stop whilst you’re being thrown into each part of The Process.

All of the applicants I spoke to had a similar story, with many juggling university assignments, part-time work and extracurriculars.

It is no wonder that many go through an emotional rollercoaster during this time, and I was definitely no exception.

With no control over the result of my applications, lacking sleep and having to face those expectations silently placed on me by my peers, I felt incredibly vulnerable and alone.

When I received a rejection from a firm I was convinced my future lay with, it did feel heartbreaking and I did spend time in tears.

I resented the arbitrariness, the cold impersonality, the artificiality.

Yet on the other hand, there were moments of sheer delight. An obvious example is when a partner would call with good news about a second round interview.

My personal favourite moments were long chats with buddies over a coffee, because they showed that they genuinely cared about what you were going through and wanted to help lighten the load.


A touch of Hamlet

So you might be wondering where this is going because you’ve heard all the above?

What’s my take on a well-known scenario?

It comes down to the wise words of Hamlet: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

The negative thinking is indeed toxic, and a topic that has been examined in relation to law students extensively. It is why we need awareness of mental health matters, particularly during stressful periods like The Process.

But what I’m hoping to share is my view on the positive thinking, and what you can get out of The Process other than a clerkship.

What you can do is learn about yourself, and that’s a very powerful thing.

Through all those hoops that you jump through and all the moments of doubt that you might face, the most important question I’ve learned to ask is why.

Why am I applying for a clerkship?

Why do I want a career in corporate law?

Take The Process as a time to reflect upon your motivations, your aspirations, and where you truly want to be. Use the opportunity to talk to the lawyers, your peers and your support network to develop yourself and your own voice.

As one friend put it, ‘It’s really not the end of the world if I don’t get a clerkship’. Therefore, why not use it as an eye-opener and a challenge?

So to all those with clerkship offers for 2014-15, congratulations.

To those who did not get the firm of their choice, I won’t trivialise the feeling of disappointment you may feel.

But to everyone, I hope you take a moment to reflect on what you may have learned about yourselves.

That might be the most valuable lesson of all.


Reyna Ge (pictured) is a fourth year Commerce/Law student. As a former International Careers Vice-President of the UNSW Law Society, she felt there would be no surprises for her in undertaking the clerkship process. She is glad the experience proved a challenge and thanks her family and friends for sticking by her all the way.

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Clerkship conundrum
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