Graduate recruitment is already under way for most law firms. Large national and international law firms have a very precise process for choosing their graduates, and it is a very stressful time.


If you are fortunate enough to land the all important graduate position (and remember sometimes it is a matter of good luck, rather than good management), there are some important messages you need to take on board.


For example, I met with a client recently, the HR manager of a large national firm, and we got to talking about the summer clerks who had been through the firm over the last eight weeks or so. She sounded exhausted and was shaking her head a lot. She told me that while for the most part the clerks were grateful for the experience and threw themselves into it, in the feedback from the summer clerks, a few had given negative feedback about the nature of the work they had been given, the practice groups they had spent time in (as not being of interest to them in their careers), and the lack of time with partners.


I was dumbfounded – knowing how much time, money and effort goes into the summer clerk programs, I was astounded by this feedback. My colleague said: “I don’t know where they get these expectations from, about what work they will be doing as a summer clerk – I mean, do they let medical students operate on patients for work experience?”


And of course we had a good laugh but it made me think – in the rush to impress and learn as much as you can, accelerate careers and climb to the top (whatever that means to individuals), your expectations as to the level of work you will get may be unrealistic.


It is important to remember these things:


  • Every piece of work you get is a learning experience – no matter how small
  • You need to build up expertise in order to be involved in large matters
  • You are of course perfectly placed, when you have mastered a piece of work, to ask to be involved in a different type of matter
  • Sometimes developing expertise comes from simply watching and listening – for example, how a senior lawyer acts in a negotiation or with a lawyer on the other side of a matter
  • If you have down time, read a file from start to finish, read recent case law, write a CLE paper – all of these things will add to your expertise
  • Show a willingness to get your hands dirty – if there is a big matter on the go, and a lot of stressed people around, there is no harm in offering to help in small ways, even if it collating documents. That willingness will be remembered and you will be surprised what may come out of a simple act like that
  • Get involved in firm activities – developing relationships across the firm is vital so that you are known outside your own work group.

Good careers are not built in a day, a month or even a year – they take many years of dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn.