Clerkship Applications: the 411

The process of applying for a clerkship at a corporate law firm is kind of like going on a bunch of really important first dates, with someone you really want to impress, taking the risk that it could all end in heartache. The firms will woe you with cocktail evenings in fancy offices with harbour views, have you spending hours in front of your wardrobe deciding what to wear to your next rendez-vous (does purple say “power” or “unprofessional”!?), and drafting CVs and cover letters with all the angst and nerves of drafting a text message to the object of your affection.

This pressure was in no way alleviated by an article published in the Lawyers Weekly around the time I was writing my clerkship applications, considerately entitled, “Worst Time in living History to be a Law Graduate”.

In the hope of relieving some of the pressure for the next round of clerkship applicants by absolving some of that fear of the unknown, this article shares one applicant’s experiences of the clerkship process, having finally made it to the other side. Here’s the 411 on each step of the process, and the tips gleaned along the way.

1. Law firm presentations

Months before applications even open, a lot of firms do the rounds in law schools to give students an overview of their clerkship programs and their firms more generally. These are important – and not just for the super keen students. One of the best ways you can stand out in an interview is by showing a good level of knowledge about the individual firm you are interviewing with, and why you would preference a job with them over other firms. The firm’s presentation is an easy way to learn which characteristics each individual firm emphasises about their work and culture – and also what characteristics they are looking for in a clerk.

2. Applications

The clerkship process is regulated by the law society in each state. This means that application deadlines, interview dates and offers will be consistent across all firms.
Many students don’t anticipate just how long the application writing process will take them. It is important to write cover letters that show a strong level of knowledge about each individual firm that you apply for, which requires research into their history, practice groups, clients and important matters they have worked on. Your cover letter is also a good opportunity to show individual flair and communication skills through your writing – which takes careful crafting.

On top of your cover letter and CV, most firms also provide an additional application form with unique questions for you to answer – so don’t expect to simply copy and paste one set of answers for each application! Applications open a good month before the closing date, and you should get started with your writing as early as possible to give yourself the best chances of an interview.

3. Offers and Cocktail Events

There are two rounds of interviews in the clerkship process. The offers for first round interviews are made a few weeks after the application deadline, and you will usually then have another few weeks to prepare for this interview. Most firms host a cocktail evening at their offices prior to the first round interview, a good opportunity to get a sense of the firm’s people and culture, and to ask questions about the firm and the work they do. It is a great idea to use the cocktail event to meet lawyers in the practice groups you are interested in, to get a better sense of what the job actually entails – and to give you something to talk about (and even a name to drop!) in your interview. 

4. First Round Interview

The first round interview is notoriously the most challenging – but if you are well prepared, with a strong sense of why a career in law is for you, and even better, why this firm in particular is the one for you, you’re more than half way there. Be prepared to speak about your strengths and weaknesses, answer behavioural questions based on past experiences working both as a team and individually, the particular areas of law that interest you and where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years time. The best advice I can give is to be relaxed, and genuine – honesty is always self-evident, and they want to see that you can be calm and collected in high pressure situations!

5. Second Round Interview

If you’re lucky enough to make it to the second round, the good news is that this interview is usually less of a grilling than the first. The second interview is typically much more conversational – by this stage, they’re satisfied that you’re a good candidate for corporate law, and now they’re more interested in you as a person. My best tip for the second round is to come prepared with a good number of questions about the firm and also about your interviewers – this time, they’ll give you more power to guide the interview.

6. Offers and cocktail events

Offers come out a few weeks after the second interview. Most firms also host a further cocktail event in the same week that offers are made, as a final opportunity to woo you, and also to suss out your level of interest in their firm over others. This event is another opportunity to show you that are a safe pair of hands – so avoid hanging around the bar! Offers are made by all firms on the same day – over the phone, or sometimes even by courier mail! While this can be a pretty nerve-racking week, the  firms are usually quick to act, making the call first thing in the morning – so at least the stress is not prolonged.   


To apply, or not to apply…

OK, so right now you’re thinking that the clerkship process sounds even more arduous than you the rumours suggested. Writing applications, prepping for interviews, attending networking events – it’s pretty much like you’ve enrolled in an additional unit of law. So if you’re not even sure you want to work in corporate law, or you’re questioning your chances of actually getting an offer – is it worth dragging yourself through it?

My answer is an emphatic: YES! For me, one of the most valuable things I’ve taken away from the whole experience is a stronger sense of career direction. Being forced to articulate your interest in the law and your personal strengths forces you to research career possibilities and think carefully about the areas you are best suited to as an individual – something that can be easy to put off in a 5 year degree. On top of this, interview experience is essential for any field you end up pursuing. You will never ever be as nervous in an interview setting as your very first clerkship interview – polishing you up for whatever job you decide to chase down next.