How Clerkship Rejections Were The Best Thing That Happened To Me
Last year, I faced a series of rejections that I never expected would affect me the way it did.
I had good grades and a nicely ornamented resumé I was proud of. Then the rejection emails came. Relentlessly. One after the other. It got to the point where I only had to read the opening line, ‘Due to the high calibre of applicants this year…’ where my heart would drop and I knew what would follow. After a tiring couple of months, I wounded up empty handed and broken hearted.
While many of my brilliant friends had their summers filled with clerkships, my summer was scarily vacant with three empty months before my exchange in Prato, Italy. As someone who itched to be busy and needed an eventful summer, I decided that I would apply for a short one-month intensive unit in January 2018 in Jerusalem, Israel. I was accepted into that program and had two free months before I flew off to Italy.
As I sat at my desk, planning out the spare time that I had because I didn’t have clerkships, I reached into my backpack and discovered an old crumpled pamphlet. I remembered speaking to a random lady at an airport about my dreams and aspirations six months ago. We bonded over having the same name. ‘Oh, you’re interested in human rights? Have you heard of Calev Myers? He’s a human rights lawyer in Israel,’ she said as she handed me a pamphlet with the large words ‘Jerusalem Institute of Justice’ on its cover. I remembered taking it, smiling, and shoving it in my backpack. I forgot about it for the next six months, until that day.
After a brief Google of this mysterious Calev Myers, I decided to spontaneously email him because why the hell not. My email went along the lines of something like this: ‘Hello Calev, I’ll be in Israel studying for a month. I love your work. If you’d like, I’d love to have a catch up when I’m in town. Thanks!’ I cannot emphasise how informal and shabby it was.
Two days later, he responded with a ‘Thank you for reaching out to me, Carol. You seem like the perfect candidate for an internship in the Jerusalem Institute of Justice! I’ve just forwarded your email to the CEO and COO of the organisation. They’ll be in touch with you.’
This literally went straight from zero to a hundred. I immediately looked up this non-for-profit organisation and found that there was a formal application process for an internship, which I had skipped entirely. Just like that, through a late night sleepily-drafted email, I had landed myself an internship in a reputable human rights organisation in the Middle East.
I ended up living in Jerusalem for three months from January to March. I visited some of the most beautiful and culturally rich places on earth, ate incredible food, picked up conversational Hebrew, educated myself on politics, formed opinions on issues I was once absolutely clueless on, gained deeper insight into my faith, and found lifelong friends. And when I say ‘lifelong friends’, I mean kindred spirits that celebrate with you, cry with you, and do life with you.
My three months in Jerusalem easily became one of the best three months of my life.
Often when we’ve planned for something that doesn’t happen, we’re left we a daunting amount of spare time lingering in the place of our unfulfilled wishes. Embrace it. Reach out into your backpack and pull out that crumpled, untouched pamphlet. Contact that person you met months, or years, ago with the job of your dreams. Draft an email, or emails, to the person that inspires you the most. It doesn’t even have to be career-related. Those empty months are waiting to be transformed into spontaneous adventures, new skills and experiential knowledge.
After a total of 7 months in Israel and Italy, I finally settled back in Melbourne and returned to life as I knew it. I started applying for grad jobs in commercial firms. (For those who didn’t get clerkships – grad applications are your second window!)
After a gruelling process of interviews and psychometric tests, a familiar wave of rejections swept over me. Except this time, it felt much gentler and kinder. After the first wave of clerkship rejections, I’ve somehow built a resistance against ‘no’. Barely dismayed, I dusted them off. I was having coffee with a friend when she said to me, ‘I don’t see it as rejection, but redirection.’ Sure, it’s a catchy phrase. But I was soon about to find out how right she was.
One day, another friend suggested that I mind-mapped my aspirations to have a clearer idea of my future. Initially, I thought it sounded silly. I’m not in kindergarten. I am a fully-grown adult who pays for her own Netflix account. But I decided to give it a shot anyway. I spread out a large, blank sheet of paper across my desk, and formed three broad categories: Passion, Talent and Lifestyle.
Passion. My passion is people. I love hearing their stories, unpacking their hearts, and allowing them to feel seen and valued. I also love law. I love the problem-solving and intellectually-stimulating aspects of it. Of course, I have other ancillary passions, such as music and politics. I scribbled those down too.
Talent. The first thing that came to my mind was my way with words. I love using my words to empower others and to convey ideas. The second thing that popped in my head was my people skills. I love building relationships. This was tightly linked to my other talent of words. It's my way with words that enables me to connect easily with people, and my easy connection with people that highlights my way with words.
Finally, lifestyle. This was a surprising one. It was only when I thought about how much I enjoyed my alone time, church time, gym time, time making music, and time with people I love, when I realised how I did not desire the lifestyle of a lawyer in a traditional commercial law firm. I deeply admire and respect the people who enjoy long hours and flourish in highly demanding work spaces. But it’s just not the lifestyle I desire for myself.
After reflecting on the bigger picture, I found that my dream job would be working as a lawyer with vulnerable or broken clients. This fulfills my passion and talent, while also providing me with a satisfactory lifestyle.
Something that I hear many people say is, ‘Well, I don’t know if it’s not for me if I haven’t even tried it yet. I don’t know if commercial law is not for me because I haven’t clerked yet.’ You make a fair point. However, there are many boutique to mid-tier commercial firms out there that are happy to take in paralegals or short-term interns to give you a good flavour. I’ve certainly done a few stints myself and, looking back, I didn’t enjoy the work. Or, you could reach out to lawyers in that line of work and ask them for their honest feedback. Or, you could take my advice and mind-map your passions, talents and desired lifestyle. You never know- your answers may surprise you.
Last year, the clerkship process broke my heart but I went on to live my best life in a foreign country.
This year, I applied again and grad rejections didn’t crush me. I went on to discover my true passion and dream. And this is how clerkship rejections were the best thing that happened to me.
Carol Shi (Contributor)
Carol Shi is a fresh graduate from Monash Law. In her spare time, she enjoys a meaningful conversation over coffee, jamming to a good Hilary Duff banger in her car, and colouring her bible. She will be starting her Practical Legal Training in January 2019. Albeit less active on social media, you can discover her one song on Spotify.