Employees are increasingly opting to undertake postgraduate study in order to build on their expertise and further their career. Briana Everett looks at the value for lawyers
As the number of people with bachelor degree qualifications continues to grow, candidates are increasingly undertaking postgraduate study to gain a competitive edge.
But while postgraduate study is valuable across many professions, work experience and problem-solving skills still rank highly in terms of career success and progression.
The latest graduate survey by GCA demonstrated a pay differential of up to $18,000 between those with previous experience and postgraduate qualifications and those without the previous experience.
"This shows that employers are still willing to pay a premium for relevant experience, even when an employee has postgraduate experience," Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) research manager Bruce Guthrie said.
Freehills people and development manager Liz Henry notes that candidates in the legal industry often undertake postgraduate study to better equip themselves for a particular specialisation, which she says the firm supports, but with recruitment, Henry says entry level qualifications are still an important part of the selection process.
"We don't have a preference for what other degrees our graduates have completed, but we want to see demonstrated strong academic performance," she explains, "but [postgraduate] qualifications can stand them in good stead."
According to Henry, Freehills has seen a slight increase in the number of lawyers with postgraduate qualifications, with more lawyers now seeking such qualifications at an earlier stage. She has also seen an increase in newly qualified lawyers going offshore to study to boost their stocks in the marketplace.
University of Sydney Associate Dean (postgraduate coursework) Roger Magnusson says enrolments in their postgraduate law units have increased by 28 per cent over the last five years and over the last three years, enrolments in the Master of Laws (LLM) have grown by 20 per cent.
"Our experience is that the LLM, or another specialist coursework degree, is increasingly seen as a part of career development," Magnusson says.
"Today's lawyer is not a 'jack of all trades' but a specialist who uses their enrolment in a Master's degree to consolidate in their area of expertise, or alternatively, to bridge the gap and to branch outwards towards a new area of practice. In both cases, the degree builds professional confidence and expertise."
With many lawyers undertaking degrees such as an LLB in order to build upon their expertise, those wanting to move into management also have the option of a Master of Business Administration - a decision which Freehills managing partner Gavin Bell made.
"I think I had seen that my career would, in the long term, be in management at Freehills," Bell says. "By learning about project finance and people management, by the time I was in full-time management, I could see how useful my MBA had been."