As we make our way towards July and away from Summer, we’ll be looking at the clerkship season from the perspective of recent Summer Clerks at all of the top firms. This week’s contributor is Nicholas Mirzai of Mallesons Stephen Jacques...
We all know that a summer clerkship puts one in good stead for commencing a career in commercial law, but how do we get one? This guide aims to dispel a few myths about the clerkship process and put you on the right track for making the right career choice.
The summer clerkship application process can be a daunting one at the best of times and rather than tell you what you will no doubt hear countless times between now and the end of July when applications are due I would rather stress a few important tips that I learnt over the course of the application process.
Whether it is in your resume, cover letter or interview it is important to be honest. A common misconception when asked to talk about yourself is to be modest; being yourself simply means to present your best self. Whether it be your marks, your experience or your interests everyone brings something unique to their application and this should never be overlooked or omitted.
A good way to check whether your application is true to you is to give your resume/cover letter to a friend or family member who knows you well and ask them if from those few pages they get a good sense of who you are. Regardless of whether this is right for a law firm, if the answer to that question is yes then your resume is doing its job. So often I hear that you need to ‘tailor’ or ‘doctor’ your CV to match attributes required by a law firm. There are three main problems with this; Firstly, 99 times out of 100 you do not know what law firms are looking for, secondly, the HR staff have read thousands of applications and are extremely good at picking doctored resumes from legitimate ones and thirdly, even if you pass on the above two counts you are presenting an image of someone you are not – no job is worth that.
This does not mean that you should not highlight commercial interests or particular skills that you have achieved throughout your life, but it does mean that your job in fast food or retail does not need to give you the skills necessary to manage clients in a law firm – firms understand what it is like to be a student often better than we think they do. The bottom line is, do not be embarrassed to put down such experience if you have it, working and managing university study puts you one step ahead in time management – all law firms like this.
Nothing is more detrimental to your application than careless errors. Spelling and grammatical flaws are looked upon extremely unfavourably and have no room when you are presenting your best self. Again, try and find someone you trust to carefully look over your CV and cover letters for structure, grammar and sense – do not rely on word processing spell checks.
The ‘Interests’ Field is Important.
9 times out of 10 (and probably closer to a full 10 out of 10) if you make it through to an interview with a law firm, the bulk of your questions will stem from your interest field. It really does not matter at all what you put there but often as a student we disconnect a ‘partner’ at a big law firm from a human being. Don’t make this mistake. Every interview is designed to allow the firm to learn more about you as person, that is, your interests and your ambitions. If you have made it to the interview stage, it is no longer about your marks and more about your love for the beach, a good novel or travel.
You should know about the firm you have an interview with before you get to the interview (this should form part of your written application – in particular your cover letter). If you are lucky enough to find out who will be interviewing you, look them up to see if you can find any common interests. Often the bio will come up with a collection of deals they have done – how can you find an interest here you ask? You will be surprised how many of these deals make headline news or are topics of discussion in class, don’t be afraid to draw these connections if and where appropriate. Whilst knowing about the firm and your interview makes for a good icebreaker you should require nothing wrote-learnt – you do not need to memorise facts in order to tell someone about yourself.
Whilst this is quite a cliché thing to say, it is essential. Confidence should only be a problem if you have presented an image of yourself in your written application that you cannot live up to in person. I personally found the interviews to be an enjoyable experience, how often have you had the chance to talk to the top tier practitioners that run the cases we read and talk about in class? Throughout the interview process, you will meet innovators of legal practice from a multitude of fields and specialisations. It is an incredibly exciting time and one that I trust you will embrace just as I did. Don’t be afraid to express a love for detail or a commercial awareness, these are elements that make not only for a good student but for a good lawyer. At the same time, don’t fabricate a love that isn’t there, we all have different interests but I am sure you can find one area of law that interests you. Try and focus on this when you are identifying which law firm(s) would suit you.
Talk to People.
The summer clerkship process was one of the most collaborative times for me. There is a real sense of university pride come June-July and everyone is more than likely going through similar emotions so share the anxiety, share the queries and ask the necessary questions. Most importantly, never forget to thrive off each other’s successes. I found many friends at UTS in particular whom I would have never really spoken to but for the application process. Law is about network building as much as it is about problem solving and theory. Be sure to develop those necessary personable traits that only come from practice.
Ignore the Rumours.
The application is about you, not what school you went to or what university you will graduate from. Don’t believe the hype and try not to get bogged down in common misconceptions. You will hear a lot of things, about the firms, about the various universities and the vast majority of it will be complete rubbish. I know people from UTS in each of the recruiting firms; you are not disadvantaged arbitrarily due to your choice of tertiary institution. Stay true to your own values and try to filter through your own expectations of firms when doing your research. Make the decision on who to apply for based on your own research, understanding and investigation. Where you are unsure, make certain you ask someone – your lecturers, tutors and even older students are usually more than happy to help you. It is important that you treat the process seriously and put some thought into where you see yourself ending up – you can only make this decision properly if all your questions have been answered.
It’s an Important Step, Not a Fatal One.
The last piece of advice is to recognise that the process is selective. None of you are expected to know what a law firm is looking for in its summer clerks and the best anyone can expect from you (law firms included) is honesty, an understanding of yourself and what you want from your career and an active personality in trying to sync your expectations with what a firm can provide. Getting this right is no menial task and it will require considerable effort on your part but you should consider the clerkship as a potential investment towards your future. If after all this work you find that commercial law is not for you, congratulations, you have made a discovery in your own career that people can spend their entire lives trying to figure out. Not getting a clerkship is not a bad thing, each of us have our own interests and capabilities – you will only be truly satisfied in your career choices when you understand what you can expect from yourself. More than a summer job, the clerkship helps you realise this.
Finally and most importantly, best of luck!
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