In 2017, a member suggested that WLAQ develop a range of in-practice queries, being a central resource of questions that members may have across the course of their careers.  Thank you to Melanie Hindman QC for her assistance with getting the project started, and to the FY2018/2019 Committee for compiling this information.

This information is general in nature and is not representative of any one person, or organisation, including WLAQ.  Please ensure that you review all career information available to you and form an independent opinion before deciding what you want to do.

Clerkships and Graduate positions

So, what are you doing next year?

This question is often the bane of a final year law student’s existence and may be yours (especially after being asked by family members, friends, colleagues and potentially the barista at your local coffee joint).  It’s an exciting and daunting time in your life so, of course, everyone wants to know how you are tracking to take that big leap into lawyer-dom. It is at this point that your future starts to come into sharper focus and the pressure to make the ‘right’ decision about your post-graduation career starts to intensify.  While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to securing a graduate lawyer position, there is a path well followed by many firms and is applied in line with Queensland Law Society requirements.

What is a ‘clerkship’?

A clerkship is, generally, paid work experience that you may choose to complete in your penultimate year of study (you can apply in other years, however your penultimate year is the preferred year for law firms).  Offered in both Winter and Summer university holidays (which is why they are called vacation clerkships), a clerkship is usually a four week program that would see you work with various practice groups in a firm.  There are usually two rounds for Summer clerkships; December and January. Undertaking a clerkship has two major benefits – first, you will be able to experience a firm’s culture firsthand before making a decision regarding your graduate employment and the areas of law you may be interested in.  Secondly, while it is a myth that all students who undertake a clerkship are offered a graduate position, it is not a myth that you are ‘higher up the list’ than those who never competed a clerkship at any firms. The Queensland Law Society publishes a set list of dates that all law firms follow for the receiving clerkship applications, interviews and offers.  The QLS Careers Expo (generally held in March of each year) is the perfect opportunity to scout firms, find out what type of law they practice in and participate in helpful workshops, including resume and cover letter writing. There are no restrictions on the number of law firms that you apply to, however if you intend to undertake more than one clerkship in Summer, make sure you clarify which group you will be part of. You may receive more than one offer for a clerkship.  Make sure you decide this yourself – do not be swayed by friends are going.  And, the Golden Rule – communicate your acceptance or rejection before the due date and in writing.

What is a ‘graduate position’?

A graduate position is your first post-graduation role.  It used be called (in a different iteration) an Articled Clerkship.  Most graduate positions are two years, where you complete six month to one year rotations in various practice groups while completing your Practical Legal Training (PLT). What is it like to work and study as a grad?  Well, yes, you can take leave while you are a graduate, just make sure you plan and ask for it in advance.  Remember: most graduate salaries are fixed while you are a grad.  You are able to access study leave for PLT and to take your exams – make sure you read your firm’s policy on this.  Top tier firms generally have the College of Law attend to give the courses and run the exams. Rotation discussions can take some time – there are coffees with the Senior Associates to find out if you want to rotate in, chats with other grads to find out where they are looking to go, meeting with the Partner and then the final decision you make and give to Talent.  You will hear stories about grads missing out on their top preference, and others who have received their top preferences each time, and there is always the story of a grad who received their 15th preference and next time received their top one.  If you talk to Talent about the process, they can tell you about the discussions they have with Partners, working out which practice groups require more grads (think: royal commissions, litigation and discovery needs), and will very much assure you that they do not place based on their personal preferences (read: their friends or favourites).  It is always about meeting the needs of their clients and making sure business needs are also met. The social aspects of being a grad are fantastic.  Your ‘grad group’ will be with you throughout your whole career, even if you change firms.  There are still Partners now who talk about who they did Articles with.  Make sure you use this time to build friendships and relationships within the firm.  Don’t be that grad who becomes known as the excessive drinker at the first few functions – the two drink rule is always a good start! What happens after you finish your grad program?  Well, all going well, you will be offered a permanent position in the group of your choice.  If your group of choice has capacity and does not have room for you, it is quite common for a grad to do an extra rotation – don’t see this as a negative and to those not in that position – do not look down on your fellow grad if they are doing an extra rotation.

What is involved in the recruitment process?

The clerkship and graduate recruitment process varies from firm to firm. However, the following is a common structure:
  1. Application – Most firms have an online application process for their graduate and clerkship programs. This may include, but is not limited to, inputting your personal details, completing a short question and answer section and then uploading your cover letter, resume and academic transcript. Your cover letter should not be a repeat of your resume – they can turn the page to see that information.  Your cover letter is what will make you stand out from the others so make it good!
  2. Aptitude Assessment – Primarily conducted online, aptitude assessments involve standardised cognitive, cultural and situational testing to determine if a candidate is the right ‘fit’ for a particular firm.
  3. Interview – If you make it through the preliminary stages of recruitment, you will be asked to have a face-to-face interview. The interviewing panel may consist of HR representatives and a Partner.  While many interview questions will directly relate to your study and work experience in the law, many interviewers also want to gauge who you are as a person not just as a lawyer.  A second interview is common and is usually held with you and senior lawyers.  This interview is generally more focused on the firm and what you want to know about tit.
  4. Offer – Should you be successful in your application, the firm may call you with a verbal offer followed by a written offer of employment.  It is common practice that you will then have 24 hours to either accept or decline this offer.  Again – make it based on your preference – not your parents, friends or because you ‘feel bad’ saying no to a particular Talent representative; this is your career!
You are able to check the critical dates for clerkship and graduate recruitment on the Careers page of each firm’s website. Many mid- and top tier firms also subscribe to the QLS Legal Graduate Employment and Vacation Clerkship Guidelines which contains further information about this process.

I never completed a clerkship, does this mean I will not obtain a graduate position?

It is not a definite no, but you may be on the back foot compared to those who have completed a clerkship.  Some firms may not offer a clerkship program and others may have an excess of graduate positions in comparison to their number of clerks and will be looking to hire a grad from outside of the clerkship pool.  It is imperative that you keep abreast of what different firms are offering in terms of graduate programs. Also, you are not prevented from applying for a grad position if you have not completed a clerkship you should be prepared to address this in your cover letter – close it off honestly and succinctly.

I did not obtain a graduate position, does this mean I will not be admitted as a lawyer?

In simple terms – of course not!  If you miss out on a graduate position, you are still able to undertake your PLT and apply for admission on completion of your training. As a part of your PLT, you will be required to undertake work experience in the legal field.  Common work experience placements include work with community legal centres, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  Many private firms also take on PLT students which has the potential to lead to future employment. If you are taking this option, and the organisation you are undertaking experience with does not offer paid positions, that is ok – it is work experience.  However, you need to be mindful if they want to keep you on in an unpaid position after your experience hours are up.

How do I prepare all of my admission documents?

For those in firms, you will likely have someone assist you with all of the timing, the dates, the advertising and the collation of material.  The QLS also publishes dates and the LSC is the first place you should go to for any clarification needed. Make sure you are prepared well in advance and think about what information your mover needs, for example, the language they are to read out when moving your admission.

Who do I ask to move my admission?

Back ‘in the day’, it used to be that a graduate would ask their supervising Partner, or one of the Partners in the groups that they had rotated through or a family member if they were part of the profession.  This was seen as a mark of respect and for years grads would talk about who moved their admission (also, the seniority of the person moving your admission determines the order of you being admitted, ie higher up the solicitor’s roll, whereas your marks determine the order in which you sit with your admission group).  These days, more grads are having their friends move their admission.  Either option is fine, however it would be good to have a converstion with your supervisor to let them know if you do choose to have a friend instead of them move your admission.

Do I need to buy my mover a gift?

This is not an absolute requirement, but it is always a nice gesture along with inviting them out to any lunch or dinner that you are hosting that day.

Do I go back to work on my admission day?

This is up to your place of employment, a lot of firms give you the day off to celebrate and enjoy it with family and friends.  Firms may also hold a graduate admission event to welcome you to the firm a few days later.

Helpful hints

  1. Do your research
Law firms will receive hundreds of applications for their clerkship and graduate programs.  One way to help your application stand out from the crowd is to demonstrate that you have done your research and know what their firm is all about. You may choose to reference a recent case that they have been working on or maybe they have a unique pro-bono program that really interests you – whatever it is, make sure you make it abundantly clear in your application that this is a firm that you want to work for.  Also – do not address the letter to Dear Sirs.  Research who you are actually writing to and address the letter accordingly.
  1. Diversify your interests 
This is no longer just a catch-cry of investment bankers.  Law firms want to employ well-rounded candidates that are able to demonstrate their skills and abilities in various fields.  From volunteering for the Red Cross to competing in a team sport on the weekend, these experiences help shape who you are as a person and, in turn, are a great way to demonstrate your values, strengths and work ethic to a future employer.  So, get involved and build an exceptional resume – it is not just about having a 7.0!
  1. Get networking
Law is a notoriously small world. An acquaintance at a networking event may become an indispensable contact once you start applying for clerkships and graduate positions.  It is important to seek out and then foster these relationships to grow your professional network.  If you have a contact at a particular firm, you could mention them by name in your cover letter and why they have inspired you to work at that firm.  If you are looking for an opportunity to meet engaged female members of the legal profession, WLAQ hosts multiple networking events across the year and student members have access to discounted event tickets.