Clerkships: The Case Against the Scattergun Approach

A penultimate student gunning for a clerkship at every firm in the state 2018 (colourised).

source // giphy

Come clerkship season, it’s often tempting to apply to every firm to cover all of your bases. A clerkship is often the gateway to securing a graduate position. Most firms recruit their graduates through the clerkship program, although they stress it isn’t guaranteed. Securing a clerkship in penultimate year means that you won’t need to stress about what you’ll do after graduation. And who doesn’t love the idea of being generously paid, lavishly spoiled, and exposed to important commercial deals over 10 weeks?

In states like NSW and Victoria, over 20 firms offer clerkship opportunities, whether it be a Winter or Summer clerkship with uniform application dates between the States. Some people like to play it safe - they just want a clerkship, no matter the firm. Others are more picky and have a list of certain firms they want to apply to or certain things they want from a firm. While it’s tempting to cast the net wide, it’s not necessarily the best idea to do so.

You won’t have time.

Applying for clerkships is time-consuming, especially if you want to do it properly and maximise your chances. Firms stress the need to tailor cover letters to the firm. Though it’s initially difficult to distinguish between them, you’ll start to notice the distinctions through talking to others and thorough research. You may think yourself clever and efficient, but firms can tell when you’ve just adapted a template cover letter. When you think about the number of people that apply every year and the number of applications HR read, filtering out generic cover letters has almost become second nature for them. Instead, listen carefully at firms’ practice group presentations when they’re presenting on campus, identify the key values each firm espouses, and address those directly in your cover letter.

You’ll have too much on your plate.

Properly applying for clerkships is like doing another subject. Preparation should begin well in advance of the actual date when applications open. Brushing up and reviewing your CV, researching firms’ practice groups, deals and values as well as drafting tailored cover letter after cover letter comprise the lengthy preliminary application process. But don’t forget that you’ll need to attend networking events, interview and CV writing workshops, and if it gets to that stage: first round interviews, second round interviews and pre-offer cocktail evenings. Add readings and assessments for your three or four law subjects and you’ll on the precipice of dangerously overloading yourself. It’s okay to acknowledge your human limits: if you’re seriously applying for clerkships and want to give it your best shot while maintaining your mental health and wellbeing, consider dropping a unit.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

In the best case scenario, you’ll be invited to interview with some of the firms that you applied to. This is a blessing and a curse. Because the application process for clerkships is uniform across most states, firms often adhere to the same schedule come interview times. For example, most firms allocate two weeks to reviewing applications after the closing date before reaching out to schedule interviews. This means that you could end up with potentially 10 interviews in the space of two weeks. You’ll want time to prepare for the interviews as well so you can show the firm your best self. If you narrowed your focus to about 10 firms, you’re likelier to have time to refine your interview approach and craft genuine answers as to why you want to work at that particular firm.

Narrowing your list of firms to a number that you can handle is likelier to pay off than the scattergun approach. You’ll have more focused cover letters and more genuine responses to interview questions. (Bonus: you’ll greatly minimise the chances of mixing up names of firms in your cover letters and interviews!) Moreover, you’ll be compelled to reflect on which firms you’d actually like to work for. Ultimately, let both your passion for certain firms and the practical reality of being a time-poor law student guide your decision-making process.

If you’re a Victorian law student and wish to learn more about how to tackle the clerkship process, check out our Victorian Law School Basics series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

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