'Victorian Clerkship Basics' Series #1: Preparing and Planning

This is the first article in our four-part series, 'Victorian Clerkship Basics'.

Clerkships are a huge process. In August each year, Victorian penultimate and final year law students scurry to submit clerkship applications, where the opportunity to clerk can occur more than a full year later. Clerkships are competitive: per the Financial Review’s 2016 estimates, approximately only two to five percent of applicants are successful. How should you create your plan of attack to increase your odds of landing a clerkship? Detailed below is some advice to help you with this very task.

In January of your penultimate or final year, you should start thinking how to create a plan of attack. The clerkship application process can be overwhelming and all-consuming. Because of this, it is crucial that you consider each step in the process so you can then set yourself manageable tasks to complete over time. Writing a list of achievable steps and setting deadlines makes you more likely to achieve your goals. You’ll be able to produce a high-quality application and stand out in the job market. For this task, Microsoft Excel and a calendar are your friends.

Do law students and Microsoft Excel really mix?

Most people think Microsoft Excel is purely a numbers program. However, it is a very handy tool to track multiple applications. The beauty of Excel is in its order: you can store a lot of information in one place, and you can take advantage of the tab function to create multiple windows of information.

In the below picture, you can see a sample plan of attack for clerkships. As you can see in the image, various firms have been listed, with status tracking that is both verbal (for example, marked “Y” for yes) and visual (through using colours, here green means complete). There is also a column for passwords or portal links, which is extremely handy to have in one place. Also note the tabs down the bottom of the image, where you can store information based on category. This is a great way to take an orderly approach to the job hunt and keep an active tab on your progress.

Create the list of firms you’re going to apply to. You can use University Student Law Societies’ clerkship guides to assist with this task. The LIV also has a clerkship guide and a list of LIV signatories you can reference. People are divided on how many firms you should apply for in this process: some people will cast their net wide and apply for upward of 30 firms, whilst others may choose to apply for less than 10. There is no right or wrong number, it is best you choose what you are comfortable and confident with. If you choose to apply en masse, early preparation more is essential. Once you have your firm shortlist, insert them into a tab in your spreadsheet, and include the HR contact person’s name, their position and the firm’s address (you will require it later).

That being said, you can use any system you wish! Your chosen method must work for you, so tailor it to your preferences and needs. It is suggested that you save your work on a cloud system, such as Google Drive, as you can access your documents literally anywhere (at work, on your phone and at home). Cloud systems also automatically back up your work, so there is little to no risk of losing documents. Further, make sure you create a folder to store all of your work in. Have your standard CV in your main folder, a folder for cover letters, another for short answers, and another for supporting documentation (such as an academic transcript, any accreditations or certificates).

Before you get to the point of knowing where you are going to apply, your first tab should be your plan of attack to start the clerkship process. We suggest the following rough plan, where you need to include the appropriate deadline dates:

Weekend 1: Create your plan in Excel, mark plan dates in your calendar, and update your email if needed

Weekend 2: Update your CV

Weekend 3: Create a LinkedIn Page and update privacy on social media accounts

Weekend 4: Create a list of firms

Weekend 5: Write a cover letter template

Weekends 6-24: Write cover letters for each firm Weekends 25 - 28: Short answer questions and submit applications

In weekend 1 we have suggested an update of email address. Why? Foremost, if you’re using an old email address (hubbabubbaroks@hotmail.com or the like), you may be inadvertently giving a very unprofessional impression. Create a new one fitting your professional identity; most people use their first and surname, and a middle initial or a number if the name is taken (e.g. emilydsmith@gmail.com).

Where does a calendar come in? Once you have created your simple plan in Microsoft Excel, you then should put the deadlines you have set for yourself in your calendar. Once you figure out when individual applications are due, you should add those too. Regardless of whether you use a physical calendar or an electronic one, having your dates are written down will keep you more accountable to your goals. To top this, block out some time in your week and use it to complete your allocated goal. So what are you waiting for? Start building your spreadsheet, making those goals, and putting time aside in your calendar!

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