Grad oversupply but firms still taking on clerks

by Hannah Norton01 Apr 2015
The problem of law graduate oversupply remains in New Zealand, but firms are still taking on clerks. NZLawyer talks to one young solicitor about her journey from clerk to lawyer.

Liora Bercovitch considers herself lucky.

The Chapman Tripp solicitor first started with the firm on a winter clerkship as a second-year law student in 2011 – and she has been there ever since.

“You go through law school and you know that there will be competition for jobs. A lot of people do have a hard time finding jobs, or finding one that they like,” she told NZLawyer.

“I guess I consider myself quite lucky to have found a firm early on that I actually feel comfortable at, as opposed to starting somewhere and not being happy, or having to really wade through a few places to find the best fit.”

As is the case in Australia, the number of students coming out of law school seems significantly higher than the number of jobs in firms available.

Chapman Tripp human resources director Sarah Coleman told NZLawyer she believes there is an over-supply of law graduates in New Zealand – “so it’s a tough job market for students looking for an entry level role in law.”

Despite this, firms are still continuing clerkship programmes, with applications for 2015-6 summer clerkships at most major law firms closing last month.

A University of Canterbury graduate, Bercovitch first saw clerkships advertised at law school.

“I knew Chapman Tripp was a good firm, so I thought I would throw my hat into the ring and apply for the winter clerkship; and from that I went onto the summer clerkship, and then onto the grad programme.”

She described her initial experience as a winter clerk in litigation as the first practical insight into how the huge world of commercial law actually worked.

“I was only half-way through my second year of law, so I had only just taken on those big 200 papers, like contract and tort, so everything was case-heavy, very theoretical – it was all purely academic.

“So, suddenly, you’re in this environment where people start talking about commercial outcomes; and you are doing practical work. That was only a week-long experience, and a lot of it was training, getting to know the other people in the firm, and becoming comfortable with the systems. It was actually quite a lot of fun – and totally different to what we did at university; which was quite nice.”

She found her entire clerkship experience extremely beneficial.

“Firstly, it is always refreshing to see what you study at university does set you up for the real world. It’s nice that you study an area of contract law, and you come into a job and that legal knowledge is assumed, and suddenly you are working on the practical implications of the law. That practical insight is invaluable.

“It was also extremely beneficial in the sense that we are working with some of the biggest clients in the country, and on some of the biggest cases, and you get to spend time with some great legal minds. You are just surrounded by heavy duty legal practice. And of course, you get to meet young people your own age going through the same thing from all around the country, so the social side of that was really beneficial as well.”

Coleman said Chapman Tripp is recruiting much the same number of students into summer and winter clerk programmes as the firm did five years ago.

“Around 25 summer clerks join our firm each year and we aim to take all of these on as law clerks once they have finished their studies.

“We purposely keep our intake small and focus on recruiting quality graduates who want to build a career with us.

“Given the number of students in our law schools nationally, there is a lot of competition for roles at the bigger law firms and I can’t see it getting any easier in the next few years.”

A spokesperson for DLA Piper New Zealand also confirmed the firm is getting more applications for its summer clerk programme year on year.