Resilience and Research: Preparing yourself for a clerkship

Law student Mara Lejins is smiling
Mara Lejins, Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Bachelor of International Relations student, and co-founder of the Women in Law Organisation, ANU.

It is important for developing your resilience that you acknowledge that much of the process is out of your control.

After a torturous clerkship process last year, I was fortunate enough to undertake a clerkship at MinterEllison in Sydney. At MinterEllison I relished the opportunity to understand what a career in commercial law looks like, and loved getting to meet new law students and immerse myself in the clerkship fun of sports, after-work fun and networking. I look forward to returning to MinterEllison next year as a graduate.

However, the problem with clerkships is not convincing people of how attractive they are. Beyond Law notes that top-tier city firms typically receive 1,200 applications for around 20-30 positions. Rather, the best advice I can give a potential applicant is to first evaluate whether you are really interested in a career in commercial law, then make the most of what is in your control in your applications, and then make peace with what is not.

Do you want to work in commercial law?

First, think very deeply: are you really interested in a career in commercial law? If you want to undertake the clerkship just to see if you would like it, you may be at a disadvantage during the recruitment process. Firms largely see clerkships as a source for graduates, and may be unwilling to invest in someone who does not appear passionate about commercial law. Also, if you are not interested in working in commercial law, you will be doing yourself a disservice as there are many other options for a fulfilling legal career that do not involve clerkships.

Make the Best of your Opportunities

So, if still want to become a clerk, commit to making the most of applications. Make an Excel document listing all the firms to apply for, closing dates, and the type of application required. That way you can be methodical and keep track of what you still have to do. I also recommend applying to a myriad of firms. There is significant overlap between what these law firms do and a clerkship at any of them would be a wonderful opportunity.

In addition, do your research and find out what each firm does that interests you. For example, I found that some firms I applied to have particularly impressive diversity programs that align closely with the ANU Women In Law program I run. Alternatively, you may find that the firm has been involved in some very interesting recent cases, or has a unique area of practice that interests you. Expressing these interests will take you a long way in applications and interviews.

Understand and Accept What is Not in Your Control

Despite this, it is important for developing your resilience that you acknowledge that much of the process is out of your control. Some of these things you can take advantage of.

For example, if you have less than ideal grades you can instead emphasize other experiences that you have had that set you apart, such as an interesting internship or languages.

Other things you cannot change. The Australian Financial Review recently warned that summer clerkship applications have increased by up to 20 per cent, while the intake has either fallen or remained unchanged. If you are unsuccessful, you will be in the majority. Reading so many applications, even the most outstanding students will not get interviews at all the firms they apply for.

You also cannot control if you have an interviewer who prioritizes grades or a specific university. You might even make it all the way through second round interviews and then fail at the last hurdle. You cannot control this.

Re-Evaluate Your Priorities and Look for New Opportunities

If you do not get a clerkship, it is not the end of the world. Use the opportunity to re-evaluate what you are interested in and search for alternate opportunities. Consider applying for other positions over the summer. ANU law clinical courses and internships are a great way to gain exposure to the working life of a lawyer while also completing a research project to brag about in other job or clerkship applications.

If you’re still keen on commercial law, develop your CV to be a better candidate for clerkship positions for the next year or for graduate positions.

Happy hunting!

Mara Lejins is in the final semester of her Bachelor of Laws (Hons) / Bachelor of International Relations, and is also undertaking her GDLP. Mara is a Co-founder of the Women in Law Organisation, ANU

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team