This is the story of Jack and Jill. To his friends and family, Jack is a special guy. He’s funny, relatively intelligent, and plays ultimate Frisbee. Jill enjoys romantic candle-light dinners and long walks along the beach. Additionally, she placed third in the Timaru under-15 triple jump championships. Jack and Jill are law students. Like any law student, they dream of employment, in particular employment as a lawyer. But to the wider world of corporate law, Jack and Jill are just another couple of CVs, another interview, another suck up in the law school calendar.
Our story begins on a dark and stormy March afternoon when the law firms set up camp in the common room handing out their annual propaganda. Like many students, Jack and Jill were somewhat overwhelmed by the entire affair and our heroes began their descent into a darkening madness. Over the next few weeks they made a number of simple errors which may well have compromised their application chances and which will act as a warning for you, the reader, to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.
- The first mistake was made there in the common room on that fateful day. Jack was simply swept away by the glitz and glamour that the corporate law firms tend to shove into the faces of young impressionable students. Between Chapman Tripp’s glaring orange, DLA Phillip Fox’s all encompassing “Everything Matters” tagline, Bell Gully’s tree-in-a-box and Minter Ellison’s sunscreen, Jack didn’t know how to distinguish one firm from another. His arms quickly filled with mountains of promotional junk.
This was not the mistake. Rather, Jack’s mistake was that he never made an effort to investigate each of the firms. While not as unique as snowflakes, they do have their own characteristics, differing in terms of size, clerking program, areas of expertise and opportunities. Jack however, applied to every firm and he applied to every firm in the same way, simply changing the relevant names on his cover letter. This too was a mistake. Different firms look for different types of applicants, different skills, different personalities, and different outlooks.
The moral: Don’t apply to every firm and don’t apply to every firm in the same way. Take time out to research each of the firms and only apply to the ones that you would actually want to work for. At the same time, think about what those firms want. Try to tailor your application accordingly.
- Jack’s second mistake was telling Kensington Swan how much he would love to work for Russell McVeagh. This mistake is so simple and so inexcusable that it really shouldn’t be mentioned at all. But every year, some student will put the wrong firm’s name somewhere in their application.
The moral: Don’t be that student. Ever.
Jack’s third mistake was giving each firm eleven pages worth of curriculum vitae. When it included the fact that Jack was captain of the junior underwater hockey team in fourth form, it was too long. When it stated that Jack had experience working in a team from his part-time job at Video Ezy in second-year, it was too long.
The moral: Your CV can be, and should be, short. Most firms will have made up their minds by the first page. Don’t include a cover-page, don’t include your NCEA results, don’t include a photo. Do include a good cover letter.
A good rule of thumb is that it should never be more than three pages. This may mean that you have to cut out things that you think could be relevant and important. If that’s the case, look to work that information into your interview.
Vic Careers is really useful in terms of the CV writing workshops. They also have sample CVs and cover letters on CareerHub.
- A number of firms offered workshops during Jack’s application madness. These provide an opportunity not only to learn about the particular subject of the workshop (be it CVs, interviews or whatever), but also to see the faces behind the firm and to let them see yours. Jack knew about these workshops, but didn’t go to them, instead opting to throw the frisbee around.
On the other hand, Jill went to every workshop she could. This wasn’t her mistake. Rather, her mistake was trying to dominate every session by showing off her unnatural knowledge of the psychology behind the interviewing process and sucking up to the representatives in the most cringe-worthy manner imaginable.
The moral: There is a lot to be gained from taking advantage of opportunities to meet representatives from the firms. It helps them associate a face and a personality with a particular application. However, it’s very fine line between on the one hand appearing intelligent, witty and genuine and on the other, arrogant, smarmy and a bit of a tool.
Jack’s tale is a cautionary one. He made some simple and common mistakes and because of these, he wasn’t as successful during the process as he had hoped to be. His final mistake was that he gave up all hope of ever getting a job in commercial law and instead left law school to pursue a career endlessly writing articles for Salient.
While we reach the end of Jack’s story, our story with Jill is only starting to heat up. Her tactic of attending every workshop paid off as she managed to secure herself a couple of interviews, and so we come to our next chapter of regrettable actions.
- Everyone knows the rules of job interviews. Wear something that looks good and gives you confidence, but isn’t inappropriate, always show up early, be polite, smile sweetly and answer the questions in a way which shows your attributes but doesn’t make it seem like you should be selling second-hand Hyundais in Petone.
Despite knowing these rules, Jill’s mistake was taking a different approach. Her thinking was that everyone sticks by these rules, so perhaps she should find a way of standing out. More specifically, her mistake was showing up twenty-three minutes late in a bright yellow polka dotted leotard and attempting to rhyme her answers.
The moral: The rules are the rules for a reason. Interviewers don’t think “wow, that leotard was awesome, let’s hire her.” They think “who the hell turns up to a job interview in a yellow leotard” and then go on to berate that decision in interview workshops for years to come.
Remember also that the firms and Vic Careers run workshops on the interviewing process. These can be useful in getting you to think about what questions you might be asked and how you can give your best answers.
- Having ditched the leotard, Jill’s bubbling yet slightly eccentric approach was enough to win her offers from two different firms. The first firm was a little bit smaller and had a really nice feel to it. Jill had enjoyed meeting the people who worked there and felt that the summer clerking programme would be pretty useful for her. They had given her a simple little call on the morning and congratulated her without much fanfare.
Conversely, the second firm was a big, flashy firm, which Jill hadn’t really felt at home with. The people were a little bit stuck up and she wasn’t sure she liked the sounds of the summer programme. But on the morning she got the offer Jill was woken to the sound a singing telegram who announced her success of getting an offer from a big firm. In his hands was a compendium filled with shopping vouchers, an iPod, a substantial clothing allowance and her very own business cards. All these superficial perks were to try and ensure that Jill chose the flashy firm over any other.
Jill’s mistake wasn’t the fact that she took advantage of the steps that each firm had taken to show their culture. Rather, her mistake was that she picked the flashy firm because of the add-ons instead of going to the smaller firm, which she believed would actually be a better fit for her.
The moral: The moral here is that if you’re in the position of selecting whether or not you should clerk at a particular firm, make sure that you focus on what really matters and not just the sweet perks they send you. Sit down and think about what you want out of your experience – is it size? Culture? Opportunities? Areas of practice? Pick the firm which feels the best.
- Having got her job, Jill’s final mistake came during the summer itself. Satisfied with her efforts during the application process, Jill saw the summer as an opportunity to get dressed up, hang with her friends and get a reasonable salary. The work itself was secondary and Jill wasn’t interested in putting herself out there.
She realised her mistake when the end of the summer rolled around and Jill was told that she wouldn’t be offered a graduate position once she finished university, putting Jill right back at square one.
The moral: The moral here is that being a summer clerk isn’t a holiday, and being offered a graduate position at the end of it all isn’t a guarantee. Make sure that you make the most of your opportunity and show the firm that you’re someone they want.
Equally though, if you summer clerk with a firm, don’t feel that you’re attached. If you don’t enjoy it and decide that the law world isn’t for you, then don’t worry about it. You’re not obliged to work for whoever you end up summer clerking with.
And so, this is the end of our cautionary story of Jack and Jill. Summer clerking can be a pain. It can involve long hours of writing cover letters and CVs, sweating all of your bodily fluids while waiting for an interview, and of course, a 9 till 5 job while your mates are out getting tanned in the summer sun. But clerking can also provide some pretty great opportunities. It’s real work, you make contacts, you get paid pretty well, and it provides an unbeatable opportunity to see if the world of corporate law is for you.
Remember however, that the firms get hundreds and hundreds of applications each year. The competition is incredibly fierce. Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged by not getting the result you want, it’s (probably) not personal. There are always further opportunities both in commercial law and in stuff which is way more exciting. But in any event, do yourself justice during the application process by being smart about your approach. You’ll be sweet.