Brendan is an Environmental Lawyer and a Partner at Clayton Utz, a top-tier law firm and one of the largest in Australia. It has over 1900 staff working across offices in Australia’s capital cities and its clients include more than half of Australia’s top 100 companies and more than 250 state and federal government departments and agencies. Brendan is involved in determining which law students will join the firm in the highly sought after summer clerkship program, which is often a stepping stone to a graduate position.
What is the summer clerkship program?
It is a 12-week paid program for students in their penultimate year of university, and runs from December through to February. The successful summer clerks identify the areas within the firm where they would like to work, and we offer them two rotations so they get some varied experience. We try to give them as much hands-on experience as possible; so, for example, if they work in litigation, subject to any court recess period, they will have the opportunity to attend court as well as conferences with counsel and clients. We look to take on somewhere between 30 and 50 summer clerks each year.
Clayton Utz is heavily involved with career fairs at universities where students can get information about the program and decide if they want to apply. Lawyers from Clayton Utz attend the careers fairs so students get the chance to speak to them one on one and get first-hand information about the firm. Our summer clerkships are generally well-known at the universities in New South Wales, and indeed interstate, so we get a relatively high take-up rate. The process is very established and structured so students generally know when to apply.
We get inundated with applications. Last year we received between 800 and 900 applications for our summer clerkship program. Given that we only take up to 50 clerks, that means a lot of culling. Our HR recruitment advisers go through the applications initially and reduce them to around 300 or 400. They look for resumes that show solid academic results as well as evidence that the person is well-rounded, with good life skills. They also look out for resumes which they think are interesting or novel. We recognise that sometimes the best lawyers can come from ‘left-field’ and we are open-minded when it comes to assessing applications. The applications that make it through are then split up among partners from all sections of the Sydney office, who sort them into categories of: must interview; worthy of an interview; for further discussion; and not to interview. Partners then do a cross-check by swapping their pile of résumés with another partner. We give first-round interviews to around 200 to 220 people, which will usually be with a partner and senior associate. About half this number will go through to a second-round interview, which will be with a different partner and senior associate.
Yes, we have a graduate recruitment program, which recognises that not everyone will apply for a summer clerkship. There are students who have been studying overseas or for some reason or other, are not able to apply for a summer clerkship, and we don’t want to miss out on this talent. The program is intended to ensure that we have a sufficient number of graduates coming on board to meet business needs at any particular time.
It is very hard to give advice in a generic sense. I wouldn’t want to presume why they are doing law, because it is different for each individual. What I would say is that the essential thing they should learn from the study of law is to think like a lawyer and to understand legal issues. Law is an evolving discipline so it does not pay to be obsessed by detail. I have a brother, also a lawyer, who says that the practice of law is 95 per cent common sense and five per cent law. That is something that I tell a lot of graduates when they start with the firm. What we’re looking for are people who can think for themselves and who can exercise common sense and judgment. At the end of the day, we need people who are able to engage with a diverse range of people, including clients, experts and technicians, as well as their colleagues. Being obsessed with saying ‘I am a lawyer’ does not usually translate into being able to work successfully in a business environment.
Yes, they do. There is a computerised system, called CV mail, which most of the firms have in place to facilitate the receipt of applications from students via university channels.