Getting a head start on the clerkship application process | Law

Getting a head start on the clerkship application process


Clerkship applications are undoubtedly a stressful experience. Most law students are juggling their studies with work and/or extra-curricular activities and it can easily become overwhelming.

Early preparation however, can make all the difference.

The Law Society of NSW runs a summer clerkship program which most of the larger firms participate in.

Although applications don’t open until 15 June this year, it is worth starting now so that you are able to submit a well-thought out application, rather than a rushed job.



The Summer Clerkship Process

Getting a head start on the clerkship application process

The Online Application
The clerkship process begins with an online application. This usually involves uploading your resume and cover letter. You may also be required to answer a few written questions (more on this below), and/or complete a personality/psychometric test. The recent adoption of the Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) by some firms, factors in demographic, geographic and educational data to get a fuller profile of the applicant. There is also the option to set out any hardship or mitigating factors which you feel are relevant to your application.

Do I have the marks to make the grade? 
Most firms report that they read all applications that come through and only then proceed to culling. Even if your WAM is below a Distinction, students averaging a solid Credit are encouraged to apply.

How long does each application take and how many should I do?

For your resume to be ready to go, it should be a maximum of 1-2 pages long, contain no spelling mistakes and be consistent in its formatting.

Each cover letter must be tailored to the firm in question and show some original research. Original research does not mean simply rehashing something on the firm’s website. Ideally, you will showcase your research via an interesting example of work the firm has undertaken or is involved in. The cover letter should also reflect your interest in joining the firm and undertaking the sort of work one would expect in a commercial law firm.

Tip: commercial law is broader than mergers and acquisitions, and includes areas such as intellectual property, litigation, banking and finance and construction, to name a few.

Each application will take from between 1 to 3 hours. There is no denying that it is a lengthy and quite arduous process.

Err on the side of more rather than less. Increase your odds by applying to as many firms as you have time.  Students report applying on average to 10 – 12 firms for clerkships.
Types of Questions
Broadly, there are 3 categories of questions that may be posed:

  • questions about you
  • behavioural questions and
  • technical/commerciality questions

Many of these questions will come up again during the interview process, so remember to save a copy of your responses.

Getting a head start on the clerkship application process

About you
Simple Tip: Be prepared to talk about achievements and activities listed on and off your resume, whether academic, work (paid employment or volunteering) or extra-curricular in nature.

It is critical to think about how these experiences have shaped you, added to your skills and prepared you – even in some small way – to work in a law firm.

Questions might include:

  • How have your previous work experience, academic activities or extra-curricular involvement prepared you for a career as a lawyer?
  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • What sort of work environment motivates you to achieve your potential?
  • Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t learn from your resume.
  • What are your career and personal aspirations?

Behavioural questions

Law firms are not solely focussed on marks. Rather, it is the student who will be successful in the job – who is eager to learn and work hard, open to taking direction and works well in a team – who the employer is keen to spot. Resilience is a key attribute many employers are seeking.

Simple Tip: Think of the qualities that you might be expected to demonstrate as a lawyer and then think of the times in your life when they came into play. These experiences need not be work or law related; they may be from your school days, from other jobs or from sports and extra-curricular activities (communal or otherwise) that you are involved in.

Questions might include:

  • Describe a time when you overcame a problem.
  • Describe a time you had to be resilient.
  • What was the biggest challenge you have overcome?
  • Describe a time you had to deal with a difficult person/situation.
  • Describe a time when you had to cope with a sudden change.
  • Tell us about a time you failed at something. What happened and how did you react?

Technical/Commercial/Industry Knowledge

Employers will often try to ascertain your commerciality, your understanding of the legal industry and business generally.

Simple Tip: Beef up on your current affairs and business knowledge by reading legal and business news publications such as the Australian Financial Review, Lawyers’ Weekly, Australasian Lawyer and the business sections of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian.

Questions might include:

  • Why do you want to work at this firm?
  • Why are you interested in commercial law?
  • What best demonstrates your commerciality or interest in business?
  • How is the legal landscape changing and what are some of the challenges facing our firm?
  • What do you think clients look for when choosing a law firm and how do you demonstrate these qualities?

While the clerkship application process may seem daunting, with early preparation and careful consideration of the types of question you may be asked, you can alleviate some of the stress and navigate the process with confidence.

Article by Joanne Glanz, Careers Service Manager.

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