Failing the Whirlpool forum clerkship thread – what Whirlpool users don’t tell you

You know how important clerkships are, you worked your butt off to apply to as many firms as you could, and now you’re waiting on the Whirlpool forum clerkship thread to confirm offers. All you need is just a few, just 2 or 3, and… everyone is getting them except for you.

I remember this time as one of the most stressful and disheartening periods during my law degree. Every time a Whirlpool user confirmed that another firm’s offers were out I would grab my phone to refresh my email, and then again, and then once more (just in case it didn’t update correctly the first two times).

I applied to around six firms (idiotic, I know) and received a grand total of zero offers. They were all top-tier and mid-tier firms, so the confirmations on Whirlpool came out hard and fast, and with each one that feeling at the bottom of my stomach became heavier with the realisation that all I was going to score a big fail on the Whirlpool clerkship thread.

It seems like almost every person in those threads ends up with 5 or 6 offers – it’s so unfair! Further, the advice they give afterwards is pretty much what you did. So where did you go wrong?

The purpose of this post is to provide some perspective for those that missed out on offers (or didn’t receive as many as you thought you would).

Whirlpool clerkships
Those Whirlpool fuckers with their high distinctions and perfect extracurriculars… someone will pay for this.

You’re not alone

These kinds of threads are self selecting. When people are happy they want to tell the world, and how can you really blame other law students who want to boast about receiving offers? I would have posted a humble-brag “confirmed FH” if I got an offer too.

Just remember that there are probably only 50 people posting in the thread – tops. There are hundreds of other law students who applied to your firms but missed out, and thousands of other students who applied across Australia and didn’t end up with anything.

You are definitely not alone. Take a moment (or day, or week) to cry, eat one of those over-sized 1m blocks of Toblerone, scream, silently implode or whatever it is you need to do, and then start thinking about next steps.

Whirlpool users discount the significance of luck

Clerkship applicants who receive 5 or 6 offers have obviously done something right. The problem with the Whirlpool forums is that you you will find these people (and even the ones with “just” 1 or 2 offers) giving advice as if they knew exactly what they were doing all along.

I’ve spoken to many students who have been annoyed at themselves for not doing something differently, or for not doing more – if only they had got some experience in this CLC, or picked up a paralegal position in that private firm, or went to a few firm clerkship events, or spoke to a particular partner on a particular day…

You can’t control everything and you can’t predict the future, so try not to go down this path. Luck plays such a massive role in clerkship applications these days (and the same goes for graduate applications and offers). Sure, you will need to have good marks and some relevant legal or other experience, but almost everyone does!

I tend to think that the people with 5/6+ offers have just gone with the scatter gun approach and have done a very good job at padding out their CV – they didn’t have some grand plan that, carefully executed, has resulted in their success. They just ended up with something on their resume that the firms wanted.

There is no real way for law students to know what individual law firms are looking for. Don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t have some grand plan like everyone else.

Didn’t have a high distinction average?

Again, self selection plays a large role in posting grades on Whirlpool, and a lot of people claim that you need at least a distinction average to even be considered for clerkship applications – a high distinction would be even better.

I’ve been at my firm for a number of years now and I don’t know what the cutoff is. I think it’s fair to say that there would be one, but it’s not something that we all know about (I would say only the human resources and hiring committees know what it is).

However, for the purposes of this post, comparing your grades to other Whirlpool users is completely pointless – it’s not as if you will have time to improve them in the two months from when the thread kicks off to when clerkship applications open!

In any event, if you have been networking from the start of your degree, hopefully you have a few contacts who are willing to help push your application to the top of the pile, regardless of your grades. This absolutely happens – now that is something I do know.

Nepotism and connections

Obviously law firms are very careful these days to avoid employing children or relatives of partners, and I have never seen it happen at my firm, even at the clerkship level. But the law industry is relatively small and the names of legal families (and other high net worth families with broad business connections) are well known. This means that other law firms will be looking closely at the candidate.

Put a well connected family and an intelligent and hardworking law student together and you have an extremely competitive clerkship application. Unfortunately for the rest of us, law is a business, so the person with connections will always have the advantage (I should say that this isn’t enough to convert into a graduate offer – they actually need to be impressive for the right reasons to get that).

As they say, it’s not about what you know, but who you know. While you can’t help what family you’re born into, you can do a lot of things – networking is at the top of that list.

Application screening is far from standard

Sometimes, two people will have similar marks and experience, but only one will receive a clerkship offer. Why would that be the case? This is a question I see asked or commented on quite frequently on Whirlpool.

The answer is pretty straightforward: most firms implement processes to standardise the clerkship application process, but they are usually always inundated with hundreds or even thousands of applications. The human resource departments usually take the first round of reviews and remove any undesirable applications. They then ask lawyers to help with the second round of reviews. For example, a lawyer will be given 10 applications and be asked to choose the best 2.

If you and a friend have very similar marks and extracurriculars, but only your friend got an offer at a particular firm, then it could be that a lawyer in the firm simply judged your application a little more harshly.

Clerkship application fail
Grim times. When refreshing gmail will not make things better.

No one knows what the perfect mix of extracurriculars will be

Some people volunteer at community legal centres. Some people paralegal at law firms. Some people work in their existing jobs, such as hospitality and retail. Some people partake in university activities. Some do all of these and others do none!

I touched on this above. Don’t waste your energy on wondering what could have been if only you had changed your extracurriculars.

Some Whirlpools users sound like they they have it all figured out and just walked into a wall of clerkship offers. But you don’t know who their families are, what private school or law school they went to (that the interviewing partner also attended), what relationship they have to the firm, or what someone on the hiring committee thinks is important.

Choose your extracurriculars based on your own interests, and then sell your experience from them the best you can!

Don’t just look for excuses!

So some people have it easier than others, and some people just get handed a lucky run – that doesn’t mean you don’t have to critically review your own applications!

I looked at my applications a year or so after the clerkship season and was horrified! My coverletters were absolutely cringeworthy! My resume was also just embarrassing – the formatting made it look like I was a high-school student applying for my first job. I would have been struggling to get an offer even if I was the top law student in Australia. (And yes, I had these reviewed by a lawyer I knew, but he was obviously being kind – make sure you get a number of reviews!)

You might have spent an outrageous amount of time getting your applications perfect, but now you have some preliminary data telling you they your resume and coverletter don’t help you stand out. Don’t waste that information (or your future applications) by repeating what hasn’t worked for you so far.

Throw out your coverletter, find some example resumes on Google to emulate, and start them both from scratch.

Don’t stop looking

Don’t feed in to the Whirlpool pessimism that failing to get a clerkship means it is all over. Will it make it harder? Sure, if you want to work in a clerkship firm, but there are way more options out there. Now is not the time to wallow in self pity.

Consider the following:

  • While most firms will be closing their clerkship applications after offers come out, other firms will only just be starting. Time to find the firms that aren’t signatories to your state’s law society guidelines.
  • Get on Seek, go through every single firm listed in my post on mid tier firms (and the other related posts, just in case), and do some broad Google searches for other clerkship opportunities.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for any other opportunities during this research period – for example, if you have just missed out on applying for a paralegal vacancy, or if you see that a law firm has taken on law students in the past, write the name of the firm down and email them in 6 months – it’s possible they might need assistance in the future, and you already know that they advertise for the kind of jobs you want.
  • Start reaching out to your connections and let them know you’re interested in any clerkship, internship or paralegal opportunities.
  • Just keep working at it, your persistence will pay off!

And finally, keep your head up!

I know – it sucks. Everyone on Whirlpools killed it except for you! It’s a massive blow and will take some time to get over, but keep your head up and continue working towards your goals.

It’s a thankless job being a law student, but if you’ve made it this far, you know that there is always something else on the list to do. This just means that you will need to cross out “clerkship/internship” a little later than other people, so best to get to it!

Clerkship fail don't be this sad
Have a wine or four, but don’t be a sad law student for too long – there is plenty more you can be doing!
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