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What happens during a clerkship

Written by Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Commerce student Becci Tannenbaum.

Clerrk-ship? Clehrk-ship? Clarke-ship? It’s the word many young law students look at with complete confusion. Why does everyone say ‘clerkship’ differently (and which way is even the correct way?) and most importantly, what even is a clerkship?

I was fortunate enough to have been offered clerkship positions in Brisbane in the summer of 2020-21 at two different firms. After being immersed in the world of legal placements, I wanted to share my experiences to help future law students contemplating the clerkship chapter.

First things first: What’s a clerkship?

Completing a clerkship is like taking a legal career for a test drive. You will be working in a legal firm, providing you and the firm an opportunity to get to know one another and see what full-time work would look like in that environment.

Clerks often stress about completing work to a high standard and showing off their technical abilities. While that is important, clerkships are also about socialising and networking. As much as you want to see what it would be like to work in a law firm, the firm wants to get to know the real you and see if you would be a good fit to be working with each and every day. Most large firms therefore utilise clerkships to recruit for graduate positions. Never underestimate the value of a coffee with partners of the firm because that’s how you will really get to know the company.

And don’t worry – you won’t be tasked with drafting a statement of claim on your own, or be expected to know exactly what documents to prepare for a mediation. The firms know full well that you’re usually in your penultimate year of a law degree and most likely have no other legal experience.

Becci Tannenbaum completed two clerkships over the 2020 - 2021 summer

What do you do during a clerkship?

During my clerkships I was able to immerse myself in the practical aspects of being a lawyer. From meeting with clients, to team strategy meetings and attending court, I was able to see what my everyday would look like after graduation. The interactions I was able to have with large clients were inspiring, I could see the gravity of the work I was doing, even as a clerk.

I was able to collaborate with the firms’ interstate offices and work on large national projects. Sometimes, I was so engrossed in what I was doing and what I was a part of, that I would forget I was there for only a month and that is a true testament to the people I worked with, who made me feel so included and mentored me every step of the way.

Between my clerkships I experienced two different practice areas which provided me an insight into both litigation and transactional work. The practice areas were eye-opening and I was able to test which skill sets I most enjoyed utilising and understand what style of law I would enjoy practising. So many of the partners and senior associates I would talk to mentioned that they fell into their practice areas by accident as a result of an amazing experience in them during clerkships or graduate rotations. Looking back, I can understand how keeping an open mind toward different areas of work can be beneficial in finding your true passion, after all, the real world is completely unlike what you’ll read in textbooks.  

What will you gain from a clerkship?

I cannot speak more highly of the experiences I had and the people I got to work with. The connections that I made with my fellow clerks are invaluable. It was fantastic to broaden my network within the Brisbane community and make lifelong friendships which only enhanced my experience.

So, what is my number one tip for law students wishing to undertake a clerkship? It’s my favourite piece of advice and the same advice I would give you if you were picking a university, choosing your high school subjects or even placing a pizza order – be yourself! The point of a clerkship is to see if the firm is right for YOU and whether YOU are right for them.

Take every opportunity that comes your way and put your all into it, but never forget who you are at heart because that is who they want to see.

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