This is the fourth article in our four-part series, 'Victorian Clerkship Basics'.
There are so many things to be said about the interview process. The topic is so large, the Law Institute of Victoria has published an article on how to prepare to perform your best in interviews, so make sure to check it out here.
I’ve applied, interviewed and have been selected: now what?
You’ve gone through the gruelling selection process and you’re one of the lucky ones that have made it. Congratulations! Here are some things for you to consider while clerking:
Firms aren’t looking for you to be an expert in the practice area you’re clerking in. Rather, they are looking for your willingness to assist, ability to learn and whether you’re a good culture fit. Put your efforts into these pursuits rather than trying to be a subject expert. One way you can try and stand out is by showing initiative. Colin Biggers & Paisley Graduate Benjamin Jacobs states that he “went a step further in research tasks by finding additional information that the instructor is likely not aware of”. He said this is advantageous as “it can demonstrate your interest in your allocated practice area and an ability to take initiative”.
Have an opinion. Partners will often ask you what you think, so be ready to contribute, but don’t overdo it. Nobody expects you to provide huge lightbulb moments to career lawyers, but an ability to hear the question, digest your thoughts and compose an articulate reply is almost as valuable as the answer itself. Simon Wallace, Banking and Finance Partner at Dentons, advises “Just because someone in the room has mentioned negligence, not spouting the first thing you remember from Torts is a skill, so work on taking your time, and being considered in your opinions”. He continues, “Amazingly, not every moment of every day in a law firm involves pivotal tactical calls or ground-breaking legal research, but if a clerk listens, whether it be to instructions or to proceedings, is thoughtful, diligent and at least feigns enthusiasm about a matter or outcome we are all working on, they are the impressions that last with me”.
Graduates are a godsend. Spend the time to befriend them. They’ve likely clerked and will be able to give you some tips. That being said, don’t say anything to the grad that you wouldn’t want the Partner to hear: ultimately they put their two cents in about your performance at the firm. Barrister and previous Herbert Smith Freehills Partner Daniel Preston agrees, saying “every interaction with anyone in the firm - particularly in your group - is a mini-interview. Whether it is a secretary, junior lawyer or partner, every interaction is critical, as the partners will seek feedback from anyone you have engaged with during your clerkship. He goes on to say that you should “make sure that you properly understand any task you are given. If in doubt, ask for clarification, whether from a partner or a junior lawyer and never be afraid to ask a question - although it is always better if your question demonstrates that you have already given the issue some thought."
Show your supervisors you are proactive and keen to contribute. Kelsey Sabine, Herbert Smith Freehills clerk, suggests “if you don’t have any work, or after completing a task you know you will have capacity, flag it with your supervisor. Taking the lead on additional work is valued highly by the senior lawyers in your team”.
Manage expectations: when you are assigned a task, ask what the expected turnaround time is and communicate whether you can meet the deadline. In my experience, I had multiple partners, lawyers and graduates allocating tasks to me without full awareness of my workload. Managing expectations is key to doing well in your clerkship. Communicate clearly with senior lawyers and if you can’t meet a deadline explain why in advance. Alan Mitchell, Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, explains “given my heavy workload and unpredictable schedule, I rely on my team to provide daily updates on the progress of assigned tasks to ensure we meet our clients’ needs in a timely manner. As a result, I place importance on clerks demonstrating an ability to routinely update senior lawyers on their progress and clearly communicate the expected completion of allocated tasks."
Network in your group and with others at the firm. It is your responsibility to initiate coffee catch-ups, so make it happen (only after the second or third day)! Georgia Dyer, Thomson Geer Lawyer, agrees, saying "one of the most important things to do during your clerkship is to demonstrate your ability to work efficiently and effectively with others. I encourage all clerks to be proactive and participate in all team and firm activities available to them during their clerkship.”
Proof your work on hard copy prior to submission. Get a graduate or junior lawyer’s advice on a point of law or your piece if you’re uncertain. Barrister, Daniel Briggs, emphasises the importance of proofing your work, saying “In my clerkship performance review at Arnold Bloch Leibler my supervisor was impressed that he was unable to find a grammatical or spelling mistake in my work. While firms do not expect you to have all the answers, demonstrating an eye for detail and care in your work will go a long way to making the right impression."
Do not bother the senior staff with lots of questions intermittently. Rather, try and ask your questions at the time of being assigned a task. Matt Persico, Lawyer at Thomson Geer, notes “it isn’t always possible to pre-empt questions you might have down the track at the time you receive instructions, particularly if you haven’t done a certain task before or don’t even know what you’re looking at or for. That said, if you’re concerned with bombarding a colleague with questions, do what a recent clerk did (which really impressed me!) and pop in with a list of questions and efficiently run through them in one hit”.
Be nice to everyone, including the support staff. The librarians, IT, HR, secretarial staff and operations all have their say on whether they think you’re a good fit at the firm. Plus, they can make your clerkship either easy or difficult depending on how you treat them.
Be your professional self. You don’t want to work somewhere long-term where you have to keep up a façade, so be authentic. Minter Ellison clerk Chris Grant said, “my biggest advice to anyone going into a clerkship is to bring your natural self to work: you've impressed the firm during the interview stage so don’t be shy to show off your personality, they want to see what makes you unique!”.
Good luck prospective clerks: we wish you all the best with your applications!
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