IMPORTANT: Stop obsessing over things you cannot control

Clerkship season is upon us and naturally students are coming out with queries about what WAM/GPA they need to avoid their application being culled by the firms who run clerkships. This is a fair enough question but it is futile and needs to stop. Let me explain why. 

It is not news that the legal profession is rife with mental health issues due to the nature of the work and the culture it breeds. Conversations have been happening but little action is being taken to address this serious issue in the profession.

It should therefore not be news that law students are highly susceptible to the same issues because of the competitiveness of the legal graduate market at the moment, which doesn’t seem like it is going to change any time soon.

Because of this intense competition, the bigger firms get up to 1,000 applications for a handful of clerkship positions. I need not rehash my previous post about why these firms are sought after, but let me explain why I think this constant asking about what grades you need to be successful in getting a clerkship is pointless, does only harm, and leads to further issues.

If you constantly worry about whether your grades are “good enough” you are going to make yourself sick. 

What is “good enough” anyway? Good enough to do the job? Or good enough to make the rest of your application look good? There is no definition of “good enough” because it is a subjective concept. This is why you will often hear how someone with a pass average is getting interviews, and someone with a HD average is not.

In a profession that already has a problem with mental health issues, worrying about a number that you can’t control (in that, once you get your final mark, it cannot be changed) determining your entire future will only make you sick with anxiety. This anxiety you place on yourself will damage your health in the long run.

So stop questioning whether your marks are “good enough” and focus on the things you can control (more on this below).

You cannot control the application process.

Each and every firm will have their own way of reducing their application numbers in order to short-list for interviews. Some will indeed enter a WAM or GPA and cull the rest, but you will never ever know what this number is (and even if you somehow found out, it probably changes from year to year, so anyone’s anecdote from last year will not help you). This is becoming less common.

Other firms will reduce their applications by getting every applicant to do personality testing, or even play games. Lander & Rogers in particular utilised games last year to short-list for interviews. Some do video interviews, and so on.

The way applicants are selected for interviews is varied and wide and you will likely never find out for sure what exact method was used, so stop obsessing over whether your resume is eye-catching or drops enough buzzwords because this is the wrong thing to be focusing on.

You cannot change the number you have.

I know a lot of us worry from day one of our degree (I, regrettably, was one of them), but when the hunger games are going down, there is nothing  you can do to change what appears on your transcript.

Yes, anecdotes about people getting in with similar grades to you can help you to feel better, but the reality is you shouldn’t need to rely on others’ validation to feel good about yourself and what you bring to the table.

Constantly asking if your WAM/GPA is “good enough” or what WAM/GPA others have or what their CV looks like will only lead you to compare yourself to your peers and lead you to think you are not good enough, which is absolutely not true.

What good does it do to compare your 69.8 to someone’s 71? None. So stop putting yourself through that unnecessary stress.

Your focus is on the wrong thing.

When applying for a clerkship – or any job – your focus should be on writing a good application and portraying yourself in the best light. Focusing on whether your grades are “good enough” takes away from this.

Focus on the things you can control, like writing a good cover letter and answering the application questions well, instead of over-analysing your final mark for Contracts in first year and whether this makes or breaks your chances at getting a clerkship.

And most importantly…

There is no magical number or formula that will get you an interview!!! I repeat, there is no guarantee that your grade, even if it is 90%, will get you an interview and a clerkship.

Like I said before, there is no way you could possibly know what WAM/GPA you need because there isn’t a fixed number that will ensure you get in front of a Human Resource person’s eyes. So stop worrying about whether you have it or you don’t because you will only stress yourself out and this will have lasting effects on your health.

We know that a very small percentage of students actually get a clerkship and yet most people end up getting a good job. So why do we worry so much about something we cannot control?

Because law students are naturally uber competitive, probably the most out of all study areas. They are usually of the over achieving, self-critical personality type and are almost always comparing themselves to their peers (you probably don’t even realise this, but your friends are probably doing it about you and you them).

They also (sadly) internalise every rejection instead of accepting that this is just the nature of the market right now. Taking a clerkship rejection as “evidence” that you are not good enough because you didn’t have X mark will only lead to depression, anxiety and other issues in a profession that already has a problem. And due to the personality type we are, we likely will feel like we don’t need help, when we actually do.

So try your best with your grades, but also try and be a rounded candidate. Volunteer, do work in the industry or something else you enjoy. Also remember that these firms running clerkships are not the be all and end all.

Above all else, look after yourself. Stay away from these discussions, stay off reddit and whirlpool if you feel like you need to to avoid the risk of falling into the black hole of comparison. Focus on being the best you can and don’t compare yourself to others. We all bring unique skills and experiences and things always work out for the best (even if you can’t see it right now).

Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.

If you have any peers you think need to read this, please share it around.


The [Pre]Lawyer in Black

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