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How to get a job in a law firm: Insiders tell all

How to get a job in a law firm: Insiders tell all

Corrs Chambers Westgarth's national human resources manager sheds some light on the dark corners of law firm hiring and firing.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth's human resources manager, Alexis Navie, sheds some light on the dark corners of law firm hiring and firing.

WITH the GFC fading into the background, it seems the legal ‘War for Talent’ is returning. It’s always been there, really, in private practice. Law firms will always pursue the best talent because business depends on it. Clients want nothing but the best. 

These days there are so many career options for lawyers, from corporate in-house counsel, banking, government, politics, the bar, pro-bono/community work, consulting, the list of paths you can take is long and interesting. Which path will make the most of you as a lawyer and give you choices in your career? 

Early in a career, it’s tempting to think in terms of a job, rather than a career. Without a plan, it’s easy to end up doing whatever presents itself, or what other people want you to do. You have decisions to make about what type of lawyer you ultimately want to be. A career plan brings no guarantees, of course, but it will significantly improve your chances. 

The benefits of starting or furthering your career in a reputable law firm are well known. The training and experience is of a high standard from graduate level to  partnership. Your technical skills will be continually honed and you’ll receive valuable career development through tailored training programs, secondments to clients, opportunities to learn new skills in other practice areas, international experience, pro-bono opportunities and participation on leadership teams. 

But one dimension people often forget is culture. Do my values fit those of the firm I’m applying to? What’s really important to the firm and it’s leadership? Do their actions match their words? What do they commit to publicly? Do you agree with what they’re looking for in their people?  For example, some firms produce lawyers trained to think and act in a standard way, whilst others will seek out lateral thinkers and provide scope for lawyers to learn from different styles and approaches. 

So, what do the top firms look for in their people? Here are a few attributes for you to think about and see if they apply to you and the firms you might be looking at: 

Ability to get along with people: Your career as a lawyer will be determined by your ability to build relationships, especially with your clients.  You want people to trust your judgement, know that you are listening to them and that you are interested in what they have to say.  

Communicate with impact:  Tailor your message to your audience, get to the point and be genuine.  Communicating solutions is important, but being able to commit those solutions to writing is vital. 

Instilling confidence:  People gravitate to those who show they know what they are talking about.  Not just telling clients what you think they need to know, but really knowing and communicating your stuff. 

Be open to learning: Every now and then we see those who think they know it all! Scan your environment constantly and look for the strategies that work. Be open to learning - even if it’s learning what not to do! 

Develop ability to inspire people:  Leaders engage and inspire others to work for them. People follow leaders who make them feel valued and help them get where they want to go. 

Sense of humour:  Especially if you can laugh at yourself.  We all need to sometimes. 

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