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Herbert Smith Freehills

  • #6 in Law
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Appurva Raaj

It was incredible to go from being a student one day to working one-on-one with a partner at HSF the next.

My vacation clerkship experience

My name is Appurva, I was part of the vacation clerk cohort in 2019/2020. My journey to HSF was definitely different to the average vacation clerk, because I’m from little old Adelaide, South Australia. I had heard about HSF in passing in the early years of my degree but I didn’t have a lot of in-depth knowledge about what the firm does, the hiring practices or the firm culture.. The firm’s general reputation as one of the best top tier firms in Australia made it a daunting place to apply to. And honestly, I didn’t think I would be hired by HSF because I wasn’t the ‘best of the best’ law student.

Even though HSF was a dream firm, I had decided, even before applying, that I wouldn’t make it – so I wasn’t going to apply at all. Then on a whim on the last night that applications were due, with like an hour to go, I sat on my couch and wrote and submitted my application (the best decision I have ever made really). So, you can imagine my absolute shock when I was selected for a first-round interview.

That daunting image of HSF that I had built in my head was completely dismantled upon my first proper interaction with people at the firm. Every single person I encountered was incredibly intelligent, super down-to-earth, friendly and interesting. I was in awe of their expertise, but people were always generous with their time, were keen to share what they knew and wanted to talk about more than just work. And I can honestly say, after that, the rest of the process was (still stressful but at the same time, also very) enjoyable. The moral of my story is:

1) please do not be self-defeating as I almost was;

2) HSF is truly an awesome firm, and there is no one type of successful candidate or application they are looking for; and

3) Take this piece of advice from one oddball to another, at HSF your eccentricity, quirkiness and authenticity will be valued.

Typical day at the firm

Every day was different at HSF but some notable activities included attending clerk presentations on practice areas or other aspects of the firm – these presentations were a great way to learn more about the different teams and initiatives at the firm. Most mornings my team and I would grab some coffee and catch up. The rest of the day involved getting instructions for tasks from my partner, senior associate or grad, attending teleconferences with clients and checking in throughout the day about how I’m going with my tasks. There was great comradery among the clerk cohort so at lunch, we would all  eat together, which was always super nice.

All the clerks were encouraged to meet and speak with different people at the firm, so some afternoons I would organise to get coffee with graduates, junior lawyers and even partners from various practice groups I was interested in. These were great opportunities to ask questions and make connections with people at the firm – and because this mentoring is built into the culture of the firm, it was not awkward or intimidating at all to catch up with people. Everyone was keen to chat and share their stories. I’m excited to be starting as a graduate knowing HSF nurtures a culture of mutual support and growth across all levels.

As a clerk I was also able to accompany solicitors from the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre to court and get a taste of what pro bono work at the firm would be like. The Shopfront Youth Legal Centre represents vulnerable young people in criminal matters. I have a passion for pro bono work and criminal law and procedure, so it was a particularly special experience.

What surprised me during the clerkship

I think the most surprising insight from HSF, that has continued to be true in my time as a paralegal at the firm, is that  there are myriad ways to be an excellent lawyer. I’ve seen such a diverse group of lawyers who are all incredible at what they do, and who all bring different strengths to the table at work.  As a graduate I am looking forward to observing and learning from these different personalities, working styles and approaches to practicing law and am eager to figure out the type of lawyer I’m going to be and the skills I want to develop.

As a clerk and now as a paralegal I have had the opportunity to work closely with partners at the firm and was truly surprised at the ease with which that working relationship was developed. The fact that it was not daunting or scary but rather quite enjoyable is a credit to the positive and supportive work environment at the firm. It was incredible to go from being a student one day to working one-on-one with a partner at HSF the next. Most of the work I was given came straight from the partner, but I always had the safety net of other lawyers to speak to, if I got stuck or needed further assistance. It was more responsibility than I had expected, which was amazing.

Some final thoughts

If my whole experience can be summarised in a couple of sentences, it is this: I felt like a valued part of the firm, learnt from the best lawyers (who also happen to be the best people) and was happy to come to work every day! Although it is a universally acknowledged truth among law students that we studied law because of Suits, I’m happy to report that HSF is more like the Office and less like Suits in the best possible way.