Late last year we welcomed our summer clerks, Shania Amolik and Francesca (Chess) Wilson to the team. Roll on a few months, we checked in with them to see how they're finding things.
What were your expectations?
I had heard from the team beforehand that summer clerks at HGM aren’t given “fake” or “pretend” work- that we would do real work, for real clients. That scared me a little as I was worried about it being a high-stakes environment and me having no idea what to do. It turns out, I didn’t need to worry; I was guided through every task and never felt I was in over my head because there were so many people always more than happy to lend me a hand. The fact that I was always doing things for real clients just made the work all the more exciting and fulfilling.
Like most law students going into their first legal work experience I truly wasn’t sure what I would be doing. The firm was quick to reassure me I would not be doing coffee runs and shredding paper for 3 months, and they stuck to that promise. I did come in with the expectations of a great office culture, having met a lot of the team during my interview.
Tell us about your highlights?
It’s always nice when I could see that I had been able to help the brilliant lawyers I was working with. Seeing my contributions in something sent out to a client is always thrilling.
I was surprised by how much I enjoy looking at contracts like privacy policies- whether that’s just proofreading them for someone else or drafting them myself. Engaging with the intricacies of important documents like that reminded me of why I love the law- the devil really is in the detail!
The variation and depth of work I have completed has been a real highlight. Getting to work with essentially everyone in the team means you are constantly learning not only about the breadth of IP, tech and media, but also about different working styles. This is great because it quickly helps you to determine what your strengths and interests are, independently and in a group. Rather than being assigned to a particular legal team, I’ve had the opportunity to seek out anything from filing trade mark applications, to writing artist contracts, to researching telecommunications law.
I was constantly surprised by how warm and approachable everyone is at the firm - even the partners! I was expecting seniors to be too busy or stressed to chat with us summer clerks, but everyone is so friendly. Even when they’re busy, nobody makes you feel like you can’t ask them for help with a task.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the absolute variety of work that I got to have a go at. It’s hard to be bored when there are so many kinds of jobs you can do and learn about. Especially at the very beginning of my legal career, I feel lucky to be introduced to many different areas of law. Putting together trademark specifications is so different to doing discovery which is so different to looking at a company’s constitution which is so different to issuing shares…
The structure of the firm was a surprise to me in terms of how work is assigned and managed. I didn’t expect to work nearly as closely with the partners as I have. Most of the time I will receive work directly from a partner (and even more valuably, feedback from them too!) and get to collaborate with some of the junior lawyers on it. As a non-coffee drinker until this summer, I was also surprised to discover what all the caffeine fuss is about– I recommend Kōkako in Commercial Bay!
How have you found summer clerk life at HGM?
This wasn’t only my first time working at a law firm but also my first time in an office and working full time. Adjusting to the routine of working full time was challenging at first, but because there’s no pressure or obligation to ever stay past 5 pm, I didn’t miss my normal summer haunts!
Shania and I began our summer clerkship amid a lockdown, so had to start off virtually. The firm did a great job of making sure we felt supported and part of the team during this time. This was also invaluable experience for sharpening our skills for communicating and developing professional relationships online (very important when you have overseas clients!).
This made it all the more exciting to get into the actual office in December. In terms of learning, I’ve found everyone to be very approachable and eager to take the time to thoroughly explain tasks and the law to me. The firm matched me with a few junior lawyers to begin with, but I quickly realised that anyone in the firm is happy to help if I am ever stuck.
Any advice to law students applying for clerkships?
The application process and interviews can seem quite daunting with the prospect of having to talk to a bunch of powerful lawyers a bit intimidating for a uni student- at least it was for me! It seems obvious, but I think it’s important to remember that they’re just people! The culture at HGM isn’t stuffy or too formal; everyone will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible, and you should feel like you can be yourself the whole time. Start the application process with a mind open to a great new experience!
I would say do something a bit different in your application. This firm cares a lot about making sure they are the right fit for you (and you for them). The best way to show them this is by being genuinely yourself, not by telling them about your grades. For example, for my application video, I filmed it in my room so that my backdrop was all the arty postcards I love to collect. I actually ended up talking more about my art history degree and how this had led to a very real interest in protecting artists’ rights, rather than spouting about my LLB. And of course I encourage you to read every question twice!
Anything else to add…
I loved my time at HGM. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to hang out with and learn from some really talented and special people. Thanks for a brilliant summer, team!
It’s important to remember that questions are never a waste of time – all you need to do is ask! There is a very genuine culture in the firm of wanting to share knowledge and opportunities, so stick your hand up whenever something sparks your interest, and your colleagues will appreciate your initiative.