Lessons from the Law: GradConnection speaks to three of Australia’s Top100 students about their experience of Clerkships

Posted by James Wright

“The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power—and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition. But that's not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.” - Barack Obama

There is about a month to go before applications for Legal Clerkship programs open up for law students across Australia and they embark on a new chapter in their journey in law and life.

Recent events pose new challenges for recruitment managers, their firms, and of course all the eager budding Clerks. With applications open throughout June and early July this season will rely more on digital connection than ever before; with online applications and assessments quickly becoming the new norm as we look to video conferencing tools in place of the traditional face to face interviews.

The Association of Graduate Employers released some early research at the beginning of April which indicated that very few employers were likely to cancel internship and graduate programs for 2020/21, and that for most the focus is on how to deliver ‘business as usual’ in a rapidly changing environment for the Summer programs and beyond.

King & Wood Mallesons works closely with GradConnection to promote their program to “reach a wide audience and effectively communicate with potential candidates about opportunities at the firm.”

Emma Taylor the P&D Coordinator for the KWM Graduate Resourcing Program sympathises with students, “we understand it can sometimes be difficult and overwhelming for graduates to find the right job for them; GradConnection provides the perfect platform for King & Wood Mallesons to share information about our graduate opportunities and ensure students understand the core values at KWM and are able to make the right decision for their career”.

It’s too early to tell whether the clerkships, which generally run for between 4 and 15 weeks in the Summer months, will need to change shape as more and more of us find ourselves working remotely wherever possible. What is clear however is that a flexible approach to conducting applications and assessments, and to the work experience itself, is going to be required from all participants; empathy and resilience are climbing up the leaderboard of desirable soft skills as we navigate through unchartered territory.

Whatever happens as a result of 2020’s unprecedented circumstances, the value of a clerkship as a building block of any law career is irrefutable. We went and asked three of the Finalists for this year’s GradConnection Top100 Ashurst Law Award in partnership with the Australian Financial Review for their opinion, and what they are looking for from the experience.

Harriet Wilson

Danielle Le Large

Johnny Nguyen

Harriet Wilson (currently in her final year at ANU) believes the most valuable part of a clerkship is the opportunity to be involved in the day to day undertakings of a firm. “It’s about working closely with employees completing actual projects for actual clients, and learning first hand about the differences that might exist between the way we are taught about the law at university, and the way it operates in practice” Harriet went on to explain that “it is important to be exposed to the culture of the workplace by having the opportunity to interact with as many members of the firm as possible. While hard work will be inevitable, I think it is important to have fun at work so I look for an environment and people conducive to that outcome”.

Ms Wilson who is currently working part-time at KPMG Law recounts the first task she was given in the role and the thrill of the real world, “following some brief instruction and background about our client, I was given complete autonomy to complete the task in the way I felt was most suitable. This was equal parts scary and exciting. While I was nervous to submit the task upon completion and there were certainly changes to be made, I was proud of the way I had approached it. It gave me the confidence to rely on my own ability and learnings in order to make a meaningful contribution to our client work.”

Danielle Le Large (a Law student at Macquarie University) is looking to gain a competitive edge during the graduate recruitment process and wants exposure to different practice areas from her Clerkship.

“I also hope to gain a better understanding of the practice areas that interest me, which will ultimately shape the kind of lawyer I become. Finally, I’m looking to build a strong, high trust relationship with a firm that ideally blossoms into a graduate role offer,” reports Danielle.

Ms Le Large did things a bit differently and advises others to consider the same; “Try and gain some practical experience with Legal Aid NSW. My time with Legal Aid taught me how to communicate effectively with team members during times of high stress, how to balance a heavy workload, and how to be a thoughtful worker that anticipates the needs of others. While advocating for some of the most disadvantaged people in society, I have made long-lasting friendships which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Finally we spoke to Johnny Nguyen (a graduate from the University of Western Sydney) who proudly lists no less than seven intern experience or clerkships on his LinkedIn profile and not just with law firms. “One of my first work placement experiences was for a global tech company in Singapore and taught me about the importance of considering my audience”.

The internship cohort’s dedicated mentor, a Vice President of the company, gave Johnny some advice he has taken with him everywhere- “when preparing our recommendations for sales teams, we needed to think from both the perspective of our audience, the sales team, and the final customer who the sales team would need to convince. By accounting for the sales team’s interests, we would get and maintain their attention. By accounting for the final customers’ interests, we would ensure that our recommendations would genuinely be relevant.”

Finally we asked Johnny about what makes for a great Clerkship experience, “I am looking for the opportunity that has the most learning or development potential. To judge this, I am often looking to see if the organisation has a dedicated team looking after professional development, whether the opportunity itself has structured training and if the organisation has a culture that promotes learning.” The icing on the cake is “whether the organisation has global operations and by extension, whether it offers international secondments, a variety of business divisions or practice groups. Johnny added that he’s looking for opportunities that are committed “to making a positive social impact and a positive working culture”.

GradConnection offers law students the opportunity to apply for Clerkships and other roles across Australia at gradconnection.com and works in partnership with the Law Society of New South Wales via legalvitae.com.au

Employers looking to promote their Clerkship and Graduate programs can contact our legal sector specialist Domonique Delgado for more information.


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