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Are universities failing students on career choices or does responsibility lie elsewhere?

Law students, like myself, are seeking a more holistic discourse pertaining to vocational pathways. Myriad stakeholders must be responsible for opening our eyes to possibilities, writes Oliver Hammond.

user iconOliver Hammond 27 May 2024 Careers
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Conventional legal education, academic knowledge, or ‘book smarts’ stand as the foremost priorities for law schools. However, if two-thirds of law students will not ever work in a law firm, what is the point?

With a staggering 44 law schools in Australia that churn out around 14,600 graduates annually or more conservative estimates of around 8,500, there is not enough demand for a profession that comprises roughly 66,000 people.

Perhaps pejoratively, some have dubbed the degree as the new arts degree. Regrettably, top law schools neglect to approach legal education with this more expansive view, focusing on the false expectation that most students are bound for legal practice.


One might argue, in counter to this, that of course a law school should primarily focus on educating future lawyers – a sentiment with which (as an aspiring lawyer myself) I agree with. However, it is essential to recognise that not all law students are suited to or may even want to practise law. Disturbingly though, it is evident that students may be being influenced to pursue a career in it, simply because they do not realise that they have other options.

For instance, satisfaction among the legal profession hit its lowest point in 2019, dropping sharply to a mean score of 3.81 out of five. Notably, individuals aged 26–34 reported the lowest satisfaction rate at 3.67. Furthermore, those with only one to three years ranked the lowest at 3.41.

Additionally, studies show only 17 per cent of lawyers are very satisfied with their jobs. Another found that 35 per cent of lawyers were seeking another position and 23 per cent planned to leave their firm in the next two years.

Based on my experience as a podcast host, interviewing lawyers, legal academics, politicians, and those working in pro bono, I have discovered a strong desire among law students to learn about less-publicised areas of law. This holistic approach to education about potential careers will not only foster a better understanding of options beyond the traditional law firm, but it could also help stem the flow of law graduates bleeding out of firms.

This could also go some way in boosting job satisfaction among aspiring legal professionals. So, as young lawyer Stefanie Costi aptly wrote in the Financial Review: “It is about time that universities stepped up their game and began educating students on the realities of working in their chosen field.”

To conclude, though, I would argue that universities have never traditionally, nor should they be expected to, educate students about careers. Instead, the responsibility for assisting law students in securing employment is primarily on the shoulders of student-run university law societies, state law societies, and graduate recruitment companies, who host and publish career initiatives. These entities now play a crucial role in helping land law students’ jobs, replacing more traditional methods.

Oliver Hammond is a law and commerce (taxation) student at UNSW. He is also a co-founder of The Australian Law Student.