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Clerkships will go ahead with creative new ways to get around COVID-19 and working from home, according to some of Australia’s biggest law firms that had their employment offerings on display at the 2020 Sydney Law Careers Fair.

This year’s fair was the first to be held online due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings of people in NSW, but this didn’t stem the turnout numbers.

In fact, organisers at the Law Society of NSW said the virtual fair was a stunning success – with 35 exhibitors, 980 student participants and about 1500 individual interactions with virtual “booths” recorded at the online fair.

The event looked substantially different to last year, with online video chat rooms functioning as “booths” that students could join and ask questions.

Some of the top-tier law firms had more than 40 student participants crowding their booths at one time, dressed on a spectrum of formal to informal wear including suits, hoodies and active wear. Many students also chose to keep their videos off and microphones on mute.

A common theme presenters chose to address was how the clerkship process would differ this year. Christina Birds, a lawyer from Clayton Utz, told students that further updates would be provided but that firms were working hard to come up with creative ways to ensure students would not miss out.

One student suggested firms could hold a zoom cocktail party to which everyone brings their own cocktail.

Lauren Kay, National Graduate Resourcing Manager at Allens, said the current circumstances of lawyers working mostly from home would make it difficult for students to get to know firms at a deeper level.

“As we can’t meet in person, my advice to students is to try and obtain information on firms by other means,” said Kay.

“For example, via their websites, social media channels, podcasts or interviews they have released.

As law firms are made up of such a diverse mix of different people, it’s important to utilise a variety of channels and sources in order to understand what working there is really like.

Lauren Kay, National Graduate Resourcing Manager, Allens

Felicity Macourt, law student and Vice President (Careers) of the Sydney University Law Society, attended the fair because a lot of students had reached out to her, anxious about what applications would look like this year.

“I found that a lot of the big firms were proceeding on the optimistic basis that things will be business as usual in July,” said Macourt.

However, she acknowledged that due to the nature of COVID-19, it was difficult for firms to predict how clerkship season would operate.

A key takeaway for students was that law firms were doing all they could to stay connected with employees and future applicants. Eugene Bang, a graduate lawyer at Ashurst, relayed how supportive his firm has been during this difficult period.

“My experience has been really positive; the firm has gone out of their way to ensure juniors feel connected.”

Another graduate lawyer at Corrs said that his firm had initiated weekly virtual drawing competitions to keep staff connected.

Eric Gonzales, Senior Paralegal at Allens and one of the booth facilitators, highlighted just one of the silver linings to having the fair online.

“Having attended as a student in previous years, the fair can be quite overwhelming, especially at crowded booths,” said Gonzales.

“This year, the room had a far more intimate atmosphere.”