So you have your Law degree but are yet to secure a position in a law firm?
Join the club; it seems that you are in good company. Since I graduated from Law in 1998 the number of students graduating from Australian universities in this discipline has more than doubled. Such an increase in graduates (while not in line with population growth) reflects the situation facing students emerging from a range of disciplines, including Nursing, Education, Communications and even Dentistry. I’m not interested in the reasons why our universities are churning out more graduates than is necessary, instead I’m going to address the more pertinent question; how the hell does one go about finding a job in these conditions?
It is competitive out there.
Competitive does not mean impossible. In fact, as the old saying goes, ‘the cream will always rise to the top’. In other words, if you are good you will get there (although you will need to be beyond proactive and perhaps redefine the meaning of determination as you go).
First of all, a little about me.
My background is working class. I came from the northern suburbs (beyond Gepps Cross) and I went to the local High School. Coming from where I did, it was more than likely assumed that I would follow my father’s footsteps and move into mechanics when I finished school. I mention this only so that you understand that although it may help to have attended the ‘right’ school and had a ‘helping hand’ from your parents or whatever connections they had to the ‘right’ people, I still believe that you can succeed in this game without any of that.
Suffice to say, I didn’t have anything handed to me on a silver platter. Finding a job in the current climate is hard work. If you have connections, use them. If you don’t, work harder, you will be better for it in the long run. Even more than this, occasionally someone is going to throw you a lifeline. It may be small (it probably will be so small as to be a whisper of something that you may not even consider it to be a lifeline). Either way, take it with both hands and run with it. Opportunities are far and few between and as such cherish them, nurture them in the hope that they will explode into something positive.
Get Educated. Did you actually think that having a Law degree made you a lawyer? It doesn’t. You will become a lawyer sometime after graduation and probably before retirement. It may never happen. Furthermore, getting a job in the ‘Law firm of your dreams’ won’t necessarily turn you into a lawyer. Graduation is just the beginning.
I can say that the best lawyers are constantly learning; reading, researching, presenting papers, asking questions, asking questions. Did I mention that they ask questions?
Be Future Thinking. Law is currently in the midst of great change. Everything we thought Law was has been uprooted. Sure, the legal fraternity is largely resistant to such change, but as the saying goes, ‘resistance is futile’. Technology is the greatest influence in this change and even a disputation of dusty old lawyers won’t change that. Understand these changes. Predict and pre-empt these changes and you will have the right head set to begin your search. Appreciate that a ‘future thinking’ lawyer will seek employment beyond traditional avenues in firms which may not even resemble what you understood a law firm to be.
Identify Areas of Growth. This follows on from the previous point and refers to your ability to identify (so you can exploit) where the areas of growth in this industry will be. With an aging population and the fractured nature of the modern family, you don’t need to think too hard to realise that Estate Law and Family Law are two areas where this industry will be growing. There are others too (think technology).
Allow this knowledge to influence the shape of your job hunt. Furthermore, it makes sense to extend your knowledge in these areas of Law. Keep learning but be strategic about what you learn.
Be Prepared to Move. Go to where the work is. Move city. Move to the country. My first ‘real’ job as a lawyer was in Port Augusta. While many of my city-based colleagues were photocopying and filing (undertaking the duties of a legal clerk), I was in court (daily) and was even responsible for trials. This level of work had me meet and work closely with barristers, magistrates and judges in a way that most graduates don’t. These opportunities equal connections that have the potential to kick start your career in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
Stand Out From the Crowd. We get sent a tonne of emails each week from job seekers. Most of them we delete immediately.
Why? Because the applications are boring.
While it is important to remember that law firms tend to be conservative places, you need to find ways to get noticed. Avoid sending out bulk generic emails. They are easy to spot and make us hit delete faster than you can say ‘I object!’. What we really love is someone who can show that they took the time to find out who we are and what we do. It is really not hard (especially for Gen Ys apparently adept with Mr Google). Once you know what a potential employer does, it is YOUR job as a potential employee to share whatever it is about you that makes you interesting whilst highlighting what you can personally bring to the life of the firm in question. We want to see PASSION. We want to see an APPETITE for the Law, a HUNGER to learn and we want to know that you are COMMITTED to this journey with us.
What we are not interested in is your ATAR, the school you went to or your job flipping burgers while at uni. Keep it relevant to the position please. A summary of your grades achieved in your degree is helpful as is any work that might somehow be legally related. Even better is a statement (or personal credo) that identifies your passion within the broad scope that is the Law. I’m not speaking about generic statements like “I’m passionate about the Law.” Who cares? We don’t actually believe you when you say that anyway and besides, the other 15,000 people looking for work in this field reckon that they are just as passionate as you. What you need to do is identify exactly what it is about the Law that makes you tingle. What part of the Law makes you fired up to the point that you must know more. . . passion, appetite, hunger, commitment . . . need I go on?
Choose a Great Mentor Over a Big Firm.
When I graduated everyone seemed to want to work in one of the big law firms. Too often, larger law firms are filled with people with law degrees that are not really lawyers. In this context the graduate lawyer has limited opportunities to do any ‘real’ legal work and too often doesn’t get to learn from the ‘experts’. Smaller and boutique style firms can sometimes provide better opportunities to work closely with industry experts. In a smaller firm you are more likely to be given opportunities to extend your experience.
Suspend Your Dream of a Six Figure Salary. I know of too many graduates who refuse to apply for positions in a law firm because the pay is less than they believe they are worth. Please appreciate that as a graduate, since your knowledge is minimal, you are worth little. My first real job as a lawyer paid much less than the starting salary for a graduate teacher. I know this because I married a teacher. Appreciate that as your skills improve so will your salary. You will, however, be expected to prove your worth.
Be Prepared to Work Hard. Yes, the hours you will be required to put in as a graduate lawyer often don’t seem to be commensurate with the amount you are paid. Unfortunately this is how it is. It is how it has always been and it has nothing to do with the current climate.
Expect to work seven days a week. Expect to bring work home every night. The metamorphism into a lawyer is hard work. Appreciate that there is a huge gulf between what you actually know and what your clients will expect you to know. Hard work is the stuff that fills the gap.
Identify the Features of Gen Y and Be Un-GenY-like. Gen Y have a bad reputation for a range of behaviours that other generations (your potential employers) actually find quite abhorrent.
While we understand the importance of technology we’d prefer you put the iphone down occasionally and communicate face to face. Furthermore, you don’t need Facebook, Twitter and Instagram nearly as much as you think (especially during meetings or every ten minutes during your working day).
Finally, appreciate that we don’t agree with you about your sense of entitlement. The world owes you nothing. If you want a pay rise we expect you to prove to us that you deserve it (in quantifiable terms). Also, we don’t care if you graduated with Honours. That stuff means diddly in the ‘real world’. What matters is the bottom line, your actual knowledge and how happy you make our clients.
The real world, alas, is not one filled with rainbows and unicorns. It is not a place where you can expect to be congratulated daily for your ability to turn up. Understand what your potential employer wants and give it to them. If you won’t, rest assured because Generation Z is hot on your tails.
Welden & Coluccio Lawyers