My Vacation Clerkship Experience
My name is Sebastian Davies-Mills and I was a Vacation Clerk over the 2019 – 2020 period. My pathway to HSF is uncommon in that I did not get into law straight out of school. I did not get the 99.95 ATAR required and I did not go to a ‘Group of Eight’ University. Instead I worked hard in my Bachelor of Arts degree to try to achieve my dream of studying law and, after a year, I couldn’t believe my luck when I received an offer to study a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Throughout my degree I competed in mooting competitions and, unlike most of my friends, I worked in a retail position on the weekend. When it came time to apply for clerkship positions, I thought my lack of paralegal experience would work against me. However, this was something that seemed to really interest my interviewers at HSF who knew the brand I worked for and appreciated the practical skills it had allowed me to develop. I suppose the takeaway from this is that, it is often the things you don’t feel like including on your resume (such as your previous café job, or hobbies) that make you stand out from every other applicant. HSF is a firm full of varied and interesting people and your cover letter and CV is the way to demonstrate this.
Expectations before joining
Getting an offer from HSF felt like an incredible compliment. It made those long nights studying, the occasional missed social event and the trials and tribulations of a Bachelor of Laws degree seem worthwhile. Yet, despite this I was nervous to work in a very different environment with so many people who were older, smarter and wiser than me. I was worried about what everyone had warned me of: long hours and being thrown completely in the deep end.
My experience was almost the exact opposite. Working with some of the best lawyers in Australia has its benefits. I felt supported in my very junior role, by every more senior person I encountered. I often found myself receiving guidance from partners in the lift, senior associates over coffee and my buddy or solicitor over our firm lunch. Everyone was so willing to offer their support, guidance and wisdom and it didn’t matter how many silly questions you asked or how many mistakes you made along the way. We all received beneficial training about the work we were doing and about the firm more generally which puts us in good stead to make an informed decision about our future. As for the long hours, we were encouraged to work hard but to also socialise with our cohort, the longest night I spent at ‘work’ ended after clerk sport on a Monday evening at about 8pm.
A typical day at the office
A typical day can vary significantly in each practice group. In my first rotation, we would often get coffee together as a team to discuss our weekend, what we had done the night before or what work we were doing. In my Mergers & Acquisitions rotation this work could be anything from reviewing contracts, researching a specific area of corporate law or creating corporate documents such as share certificates and resolutions. Most mornings of the week we also had a presentation on important skills, different practice groups, and life beyond HSF (for those who might be interested in going on secondment, overseas or working as a barrister). This would then take us to lunch where we often all ate together. In the afternoon we were back to work but often with something to look forward to in the evenings whether that was clerk sport, group dinners, pasta making classes or trivia.
What surprised me about the firm
Despite being recognised worldwide as one of the top firms with the best lawyers, everyone is down to earth. No one takes themselves too seriously and everyone is willing to help you. No question is too silly and whether they are a secretary, senior associate or partner, everyone has gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, respected and part of an incredible learning environment.
Making meaningful contributions
Throughout my clerkship I have been given many opportunities to do meaningful work for our clients and the firm more generally. I have never felt that the work given to me was just ‘busy work’ for the clerks. I was always amazed when I was able to use my knowledge from university to draft a memo which later went out to the client either in its original form or with only minor edits. This definitely makes you proud of the hard work you put in to get here.
The skills I developed while working in a retail job helped immensely my communication and confidence skills. This ‘non-traditional’ previous experience assisted me with the little things like being able to make and receive phone calls and speak with my team in a professional way. Making time to keep up to date with the news (especially news that is relevant to the business world) helped provide me with some commercial context to the work I was doing. It was nice (sometimes) to recognise the name of a client and to understand the opportunities or challenges they had faced in the past.