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Portfolio Feature: Commercial Careers

By Ruby Evans

I recently sat down with Director Josh Herington to discuss all things Commercial Careers - What is a commercial law career? How can students become more involved in this substantive law area during their time at Deakin? What's the best way to prepare to enter the sector post-graduation? Keep reading to find these answers and more!


Josh, can you tell me a bit about your role and what your portfolio is?

I'm the Director of Commercial Careers and I have four fantastic officers, Alyssa, Alison, Marietta and Emily, who assist me in setting up our events and panels, and in organising our publications. We essentially focus on presenting to the cohort the commercial side of law which is more of the ‘business’ side of things – as opposed to say the Industry Careers portfolio which is more people-based.

Through our events and publications we aim to mirror what the big commercial law firms focus on at this stage in our law degrees. So there’s a lot of emphasis on clerkships and graduate opportunities at our events like Meet the Professionals, as well as discussions surrounding different aspects and pathways of a commercial law career through our panels.


That’s a great summary for people who don’t know! Now, last year you yourself were an officer of Commercial Careers – what would you say drew you to the portfolio and, now as the Director, what do you love about it?

I was pretty keen to join the DLSS to begin with, so when I was applying and reading through the overview of the portfolios in 2022, Commercial Careers definitely grabbed my attention the most. I knew that commercial law as an area was what I was interested in doing long-term – I don’t think I could handle the criminal side of things! 

Throughout 2023 when I was an officer, I was really engaged in the events that we were running - not only because I was helping to run them, but they were the events I attended that stood out for me and I enjoyed the most. So that led me to apply for the Director position, and I’m really enjoying it so far.


You mention that you’re more inclined to pursue a commercial law career, what would you say in your opinion might be the benefits of this career path? What can students expect in pursuing a commercial law career?

Commercial law is incredibly varied and broad in its scope of practice areas. There’s a lot of different things you can specialise in at these firms, so you’re not ‘pigeon-holed’ forever. Some of the areas include litigation, construction, government, and banking and finance to name a few, and some firms specialise in some interesting areas like aviation and aerospace which is really cool.

On a more personal note, I like that the commercial side more so pertains to dealings with businesses and the law surrounding that, as opposed to law concerned with people as individuals. I find this more attractive for me as a career path.


Some of those benefits you’ve mentioned were touched on a little bit at the recent clerkship workshop sessions, can you tell me a bit about that event and any events you’ve run so far this year?

The clerkship workshop series consists of three sessions, each sponsored and presented by a different firm, aimed to get you ready for the clerkship application process ad well as provide some insight into the firm itself. The sessions focus on how to make an attractive application through your CV and Cover letter, how to prepare and deal with nerves surrounding your interview, and how to network and make the most out of your time as a clerk.

Commercial Careers also collaborated with the Education portfolio on the Legal Pathways Panel, where we explored with our panellists some alternative pathways available in commercial law other than the ‘traditional’ route at a firm after university. Afterwards we had the PLT providers, ACAP, Leo Cussens and College of Law, speak to students about what PLT is and what this pathway looks like after law school as well. 


Just jumping back to clerkships, the Commercial Careers portfolio is publishing their Seasonal Clerkship Guide again this year – can you explain broadly what a clerkship is and its importance for pursuing a commercial law career, how students can best prepare for them and other relevant info the guide will include? 

Almost think of a clerkship as a sort of internship – once you get accepted into a clerkship you then go to the firm for about a month to get a taste of what the firm and working as a lawyer is like. You’ll be in a specific practice area (sometimes you get to rotate between a few) and it’s a fantastic opportunity for you as a law student to understand what a month might look like at one of these firms and to get some hands-on experience working on real cases. They’re highly competitive, but it's 100% well worth it to apply!

The Seasonal Clerkship Guide is your ‘one stop shop’ for everything relating to clerkships - from CV and cover letter samples, the timeline of the whole process, and how to stand out in your interview. It really is THE document if you’re interested in, or have any questions about, clerkships now or in the future.

Also included in the Guide is a lot of information about each of our sponsoring firms and their clerkship and graduate programs. What students will notice is that many of the firms only offer graduate roles to people who have already completed a clerkship with them before – in this sense clerkships are important, especially if you want to get into the top firms.

Having said all of this, some students will choose not to apply for clerkships which is totally fine! That’s why we host other events like the Legal Pathways Panel to illustrate that there are a whole lot of other pathways into the commercial law space after law school other than going into those firms specifically. 

Keeping an eye on what the Commercial Careers portfolio is up to, especially around this time of year (pre-T2) will best prepare you as well. Involve yourself in what we’re doing, come to the events we’re running such as Meet the Professionals, and you’ll be more informed heading into the clerkship application process.


Speaking of Meet the Professionals, which is definitely one of the most anticipated events on the Deakin Law calendar – can you tell me a bit about what the event is for people who might not know and what students can expect at the event?

Well it’s really all in the name! You get to meet representatives from 27 firms and PLT providers at our event held at the MCG this year (which is very exciting - it’s bigger this year than it’s ever been before) – and speak with them about what it’s like working at their firm, what their clerkship process entails, and essentially get to know and network with these representatives.

There’s drinks and canapés provided so that’ll keep your hands busy! (I always find it hard to know where to put my hands when talking to new people!) I’d also recommend coming with a friend or two so that you have that support with you when you’re approaching firms.

And take note of what firms you like! Add people on LinkedIn, note down what those firm’s clerkship processes are like, and try to make the most out of it by meeting as many of these representatives as you can. These firms are coming to meet you guys as well; they want to get to know you and they’re excited to learn more about you.


What advice would you give to students who might not have networked before or who feel nervous about networking with firms?

Well firstly, we’ll also be releasing a Networking Guide for students in preparation for the event, because I know that that can be a little bit daunting for some. 

I think a general rule is that people in law like to talk. So even though you might be nervous approaching these firms and networking for the first time, the firm representatives that are coming will know this and have that experience, so they can help lead the conversation. 

Networking is so important in this field and events like Meet the Professionals are a great way to practise how to make small talk and fill in conversation, and while it doesn’t come naturally to some it is a skill that you need to practise. 

It’s also great to get your name out there to the firms – whether by saying something memorable, making the representative laugh or adding them on LinkedIn – this shows that you made a good impression, and it can be a point to bring up during the clerkship process down the line. 

But essentially just be confident – I know it’s easier said than done but oftentimes trying to be confident and looking confident is most of it. Just be sure of yourself and stick to your guns! I’d recommend coming into Meet the Professionals, or any networking scenario, with a list of pre-thought questions ready to ask that you’re really interested in so you can sort of lead the conversation and take from the interaction what you need as well.

If you missed out on tickets to the Meet the Professionals event, a lot of the other Commercial Careers initiatives involve networking with firm representatives, such as some more panels in Trimester Two. In saying this, many of the other fantastic events run by the other DLSS portfolios will assist you in your networking as well as broadening your networks.


So for students who haven't worked in a legal or corporate role, what should they be wearing at the Meet the Professionals event?

The dress code is corporate, there’s some great info in the First Year and JD Guide on the DLSS website, but basically, it’s what you would see in the TV show ‘Suits’ – think blazers, suit, ties, nice pants or skirts, dress, blouses, heels or dress shoes, you know something very sensible and appropriate as if you’re already a lawyer. Just don’t wear a tuxedo. You’re trying to present yourself as best as possible, so you want to look like a professional. 


Just to finish off, do you have any general tips or advice for students interested in a commercial law career? Are there any misconceptions or things that have surprised you about the industry?

It’s funny because I’m still trying to figure this out myself as well! This is actually a great question to have handy when meeting firm representatives and professionals – but I’d say just put yourself out there. Coming to as many of our events and panels, networking, and engaging yourself with our portfolio will not only allow you to learn so much about this field, but you’ll also get to make great connections, figure out what it is you really are passionate about, and improve on your skills and confidence moving into your career.

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