EAGLE Facilitators on the clerkship process

By Caiti Galwey, Daphne Ju, Joseph Wilczer and Sarah Phillips. Special thanks to the MULSS Careers Team for their help.

What even is a clerkship?

A clerkship (pronounced “clark-ship”) is a short (typically month-long) paid work placement taken at a law firm over the summer or winter break.

Students mostly apply for clerkships in their penultimate year of study, with clerks being considered for priority offers for graduate roles at the end of their degree.

How is it different from an internship or paralegal role?

The word “internship” applies broadly to short-term paid and unpaid positions at firms and community legal centres.

Paralegals are legal support staff at firms who may be employed on a casual, part-time, or full-time basis.

Clerkships differ from the above in several ways. First, clerkships are fixed-term paid employment arrangements undertaken at a firm. They tend to take place during the summer and winter break. In contrast, internships and paralegal positions may vary in length and time of commencement.

Secondly, clerkships are undertaken with the understanding that clerks may receive priority offers for graduate roles. Many firms offer more seasonal clerk positions than graduate positions, meaning they will only “go to market” and externally seek graduate candidates if some of their former clerks do not accept their offers. Accordingly, clerkships are centred around allowing a firm to “get to know” a clerk and vice versa. In contrast, internships and paralegal positions are not undertaken with any understanding that the intern/paralegal will receive a graduate offer at the end of their degrees.

Thirdly, most clerkships are regulated by law societies. In Victoria, they are regulated by the Law Institute of Victoria. These regulatory bodies set the dates that applications open and close, as well as when clerkships may take place. (There are exceptions to this. Boutique firms etc.) In contrast, matters like intake and commencement for internships and paralegal positions are left to the discretion of the firms.

When are applications due?

According to the LIV Clerkship Guidelines 2023, Applications may be lodged no earlier than Monday, 3 July 2023. They are due no later than Sunday 13 August 2023.

These dates are set by the LIV. These dates may vary slightly between firms, though their dates will mostly remain within the range of dates set by the LIV. It is important to check the application submission date for any firm you intend to apply for.

Also note that some clerkships will run on entirely different timelines. For example, firms outside of Victoria are not required to follow LIV guidelines. Moreover, some firms in Victoria may not be LIV signatories, meaning that their intake dates may differ. Commercial entities other than law firms (e.g., banks) may also seek seasonal clerks outside of these date ranges.

How are offers made?

Offers are made no earlier than 10:00 am on Wednesday 18 October 2023.

It is important to make yourself available to accept calls at 10:00 am on the dot on offer day. Firms will tend to seek oral confirmation that you remain interested before sending you your offer letter.

If you miss a firm’s call, the HR representatives will often move down their list of candidates instead of trying to call you again, but may nonetheless send you an email with a letter of offer. If you miss a call, try to call the HR representative back. If you cannot reach them, leave a message requesting a call back.

What will the application consist of?

Each firm’s application process will differ slightly. Generally, your initial application will consist of your CV, a cover letter, and academic transcript. Some firms also require psychometric testing, soft skills tests, and short written responses to set questions.

Beyond this point, firms tend to have a combination of online recorded answers to short questions, one or two interviews (either online, by phone or in person), and/or a group ‘networking’ session.

How do I know which firms to apply to?

We encourage you to do your research about each firm to determine which firm you should apply to.

The MULSS Clerkship Guide is a valuable central resource for getting the basic information about many law firms in Melbourne that run clerkship programs. The information they publish includes requirements for clerkship applications, how long the graduate program runs, ability to defer offers and the key areas of practice. The blurbs the firms provide can also give you insight into the priorities of the firm.

You can do this by speaking to friends who work at these firms or if you do not know anyone, just ask any graduates or lawyers from these firms to get coffee.

You can gauge whether firms operate in your areas of interest by looking at their websites. Generally, a quick Google search will reveal notable cases or transactions that firms have worked on, which will give you examples of the kind of work done at each firm. Firms often have articles that highlight their recent achievements, notable cases, big deals and outline the core firm values.

You can look at websites such as The Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, which include ranks for firms, practice areas and also highlights lawyers and firms that have achieved accolades in their fields.

Some key points you may wish to ask about or research could include:

  • Availability of practice areas
  • Leading lawyers in fields of interest
  • The work culture at the firm, including the hours that lawyers work
  • International work opportunities
  • Remuneration
  • Upward mobility

How many applications should I submit?

This is entirely up to you and your personal style. Some people apply widely with the expectation that only a few firms will ultimately make offers. Others apply sparsely with confidence they will receive offers from the firm(s) they applied to.

It is important to submit quality applications to firms. It is better to apply to fewer firms with high quality applications than apply to a lot of firms but submit poor quality applications. Remember, if you are to get to the next round, you will need to have time to complete potentially multiple rounds of interviews, ‘buddy’ coffee catch ups and networking events.

Do keep in mind that you will ultimately only be able to accept three offers at most. Therefore, there is no reason to apply to every single firm you can within the application period.

How important is networking?

Networking is important as it can guide you in determining which practice areas or law firms you might want to apply to, based on the impressions you get from the people who work there. You don’t have to attend every law school networking event to accomplish this. Instead, network in a way that suits you. This could mean reaching out to individuals for coffee catch-ups, particularly if they’re in an area you’re interested in. If you research and message people directly with a clear goal in mind, they’re more likely to respond and be willing to assist.

If you’re at an event and unsure of what to do, remember, you don’t have to engage in conversations with everyone present. Prioritize having quality conversations with those you do talk to. Be curious, ask questions, and have a well-prepared elevator pitch. Present yourself professionally and consider attending with friends to provide a support network if the event becomes overwhelming. Remember, it’s okay to leave if you feel overwhelmed. Do what you need to figure out your career goals or clerkship interests.

I’m an international student. How is the clerkship process different for me?

The process is not different however there are things to consider.

First, international students require working rights with their visa to be eligible for clerkships. Secondly, some firms do not consider international students. Please view the Clerkship Guide for which firms consider international students. Lastly, as an international student, you may need to consider that most firms will not support international students in terms of graduates from a work rights and visa perspective.

My friends all know people working at the firms, and I know no one. Will this disadvantage me?

While it’s beneficial to have acquaintances working at firms to give you a sense of the culture, it doesn’t guarantee you a clerkship. Your friends don’t have an upper hand over you; the application process is designed to be as objective as possible, ensuring fair selection.

Everyone I know has legal work experience, and I don’t. How will this affect my applications?

When applying for clerkships, it’s crucial to evaluate your entire professional experience, pinpointing all the transferable skills you’ve cultivated that could be beneficial in a legal setting. Consider, for example, your customer service experience and how it could be transformed into a client-facing attitude or skill in a legal context. Remember, such skills aren’t confined to legal experiences; they can come from any background.

Also, law firms often seek unique candidates who can bring diverse perspectives and experiences to their teams. Therefore, your non-law background might just be the key that sets you apart from other applicants and lands you a clerkship. Embrace your individuality and make sure to highlight these distinct aspects of your experience in your application.

What does a typical day as a seasonal clerk look like?

A typical day in a clerkship involves working closely with a supervising partner and one or two assigned mentors in one of your host firm’s practice areas. Some key experiences that firms try to provide include:

  • Sitting in on a client meeting;
  • Attending a negotiation, mediation, conference, and/or hearing (depending on the practice area);
  • Performing tasks including reviewing documents, preparing due diligence reports, drafting letters to clients, and research;
  • Shadowing lawyers; and
  • Team lunches, dinners, and/or drinks.

Careers Resources on Clerkships:

  • MULSS 2022 Clerkship Offer Day FAQ
  • MULSS 2022 Careers Guide
  • MULSS 2023 Seasonal Clerkship Guide