Graduate to employee: The law student’s guide to securing a legal career

By Naomi Neilson|24 August 2020
The law student’s guide to securing a legal career

Networking early, ditching the tv-show fantasies and putting yourself first are just some of the proven tips for securing employment shortly after graduation.

Despite how much universities may try to stem it (extending degree fees, for example), students are graduating with law degrees in droves. Recent graduate Lochlan Worrell has offered his tried-and-true methods for surviving the degree and graduating with an innovative and valuable resume worth hiring over, without costing the sanity. 

From making friends that should eventually become valuable network connections, to being creative enough to see past the BigLaw bubble, there is a range of tips that all law students should be considering in order to secure a fulfilling career. 

Put aside the law reports and assignments to get involved elsewhere

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Mr Worrell, who is now working at firm Moulis Legal, said that one of the most valuable things that a student can do for their future careers is to get involved in extracurricular activities, whether related to the degree or not. This starts at university: join a sporting team, sign up for a moot or volunteer with a charity or pro bono organisation. 

“While taking on an additional commitment may seem difficult to justify with an already demanding schedule, the lessons learned, and connections made, will prove valuable in both the short term and [long-term],” Mr Worrell encouraged. 

He added that picking up these additional hobbies or activities could mean developing real-world skills and forging new relationships that could serve students “professionally and personally”. The relationships will make it that much easier to cope with the degree pressures while also establishing a firm network to assist long after university. 

“More immediately getting involved will provide you with demonstrable experiences outside of your degree, proving valuable for your future job applications,” he said. “This will show initiative, time management and an ability to work for a team, which are the personality traits potential employers look for in a law graduate.”

See past BigLaw to consider other alternatives

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While BigLaw does offer certain career benefits, Mr Worrell cautioned the law students who limit their job searches to just the top 10 (or 20) firms and in-house organisations. He said that while the programs will assist in laying foundations for a future in the law, they “often involve long hours, billable targets and/or competitive work environments”. 

Mr Worrell suggested seeing past the BigLaw bubble to consider a start in a small and medium-sized firm: “While most will not offer the structured graduate rotations of large firms, they offer a greater breadth of experiences and a way of doing things differently, without compromising on the necessary training and development.”

For Mr Worrell, he wanted a graduate role that would not “pigeonhole” him, either into a particular practice area or career advancement. In a smaller firm, Mr Worrell has the opportunity to work directly with senior lawyers, he can prioritise high-quality work over billable hours and has opportunities for career progressions the way that works best. 

“These are all things which I have found at Moulis Legal and are available in the other small and medium-sized firms. Ultimately, you should consider the pros and cons with a range of firms and choose something suited to you and your career aspirations, while being open-minded about the organisation and the roles that they offer,” he said.

Back up the standard degree with practical, real-world experience

Ultimately, it’s time to stop questioning why firms and in-house advertise graduate jobs that seek “a minimum of two years’ experience” because, according to Mr Worrell, this is really quite simple: “start now”. The best advice he can give is to back up the degree with real-world, practical experience while also maintaining studies. 

There are internships at firms, of course, but there are also pro bono and legal centres that are open to the extra hands. Students should also be considering any opportunity that comes up through their university, whether that is studying and working overseas or getting involved in a new program their law department is rolling out. 

“If you have secured a role already, congratulations, you did it! If you haven’t, just keep trying and you’ll get there,” Mr Worrell said. “It can be daunting to put yourself out there but take the risk by sending your resume to firms you’re interested in, attend industry events and introduce yourself to senior lawyers in attendance.”

While competition for paid positions is fierce, Mr Worrell said that there are always the alternative options: speaking to the university law society about their graduate career advice, volunteering affiliations or contacting legal centres directly.

“Many great lawyers start their career volunteering with community legal centres – not only will it rapidly develop your skills and introduce them to the realities of legal practice but it will look great on your resume, demonstrate key legal skills and provide you with a future referee,” Mr Worrell said. 

Forget ‘Suits’, it’s far from the real legal profession

“Suits” isn’t real – which is actually a relief or there would be far more reports of conflicts and corruption charges. Mr Worrell said while it is true most law students will get a kick out of the US legal drama, “working as a lawyer is nothing like Suits”.

“It is important to have realistic expectations about what practicing law is like on a day-to-day basis. It’s unlikely you are going to be winning negotiations with witty remarks, regularly waking up judges in the middle of the night for urgent injunctions or settling [multimillion-dollar] matters in a day,” Mr Worrell cautioned. 

“Instead, law students can expect steep learning curves, hard work, deadlines, ever-changing priorities and learning from your mistakes. While this may sound intimidating, it is also extremely rewarding, interesting, mentally stimulating and filled with constant self-improvement. Being a graduate is the culmination of many years of hard work and while it may not be Suits, it is worth every second.”

Above all, put yourself and your wellbeing first

It’s no secret that the legal profession is rife with mental health issues; from the trauma that comes from harsh deadlines, vicarious trauma related to the emotional cases and everything in between. Mr Worrell said that studies show from the moment students enter their first legal semester, they are at a higher risk of having a mental illness. 

“Some of the reasons for this include heavy workloads, the competitive environment of law school, the perfectionist nature of law students and the adversarial approach,” he said. 

Mr Worrell said the solution is relatively simple: choose an employer that offers flexible work arrangements and make time for yourself. Research has suggested that the best defence is to engage in the activities that they enjoy. 

“Maintain your hobbies, extracurricular activities, social life and exercise and meditation routines. Your mood, energy and motivation will improve, and so too will your work,” he said.

Graduate to employee: The law student’s guide to securing a legal career
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