There's a hidden job market in rural, regional and remote Australia, writes ALSA president Jonathan Augustus, and young lawyers need to get involved
The Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) has been concerned for some time about the serious challenges regarding diminishing graduate opportunities in the legal profession. As the academic year for 2009 is now closed, these concerns still exist for many penultimate and graduating law students.
Within the profession there is grave concern regarding the shortage of lawyers available in rural, regional and remote (RRR) areas of Australia. The Law Council of Australia (LCA) released a study in July that shows this shortage is negatively impacting on the ability of people living in country Australia to access legal services. Incredibly, more than 40 per cent of principals surveyed nationally indicated that their practice currently did not have enough lawyers to service their client base. And the situation is likely to further deteriorate, with many sole practitioners looking to retire within the next five to 10 years.
It is ironic that graduating law students want jobs, and a significant sector of the profession needs graduates to take their jobs. So if there is demand that can meet the supply, why is there a problem?
ALSA believes it comes down to two issues: the current attitude of graduating law students, and the lack of knowledge regarding the vast opportunities available in country Australia and the benefits that come from such a job.
Let's not beat around the bush (no pun intended), for the majority of law students, working in a big city corporate law firm is far more appealing than heading to country Australia for work, particularly in an area possibly many hours away from one's metropolitan home. The benefits of the corporate lifestyle after graduation are rammed down our throats at all stages of our degree, from our law student societies' publications containing glossy commercial law firm ads, to the firm's own funky marketing material such as free USBs and flip flop thongs.
That same level of marketing is simply not possible for country practices. Hence law students are not aware of the graduate positions available outside the city and the personal and professional development that can come with such jobs.
It's not the fault of students, however, because finding out about these jobs often involves knowing someone who knows someone, or simply driving to these areas and hoping for the best. This system clearly isn't good enough ... and this is where ALSA comes in.
ALSA is working with the LCA to ensure greater communication exists between the RRR sectors of the legal profession, and each law school's law student society. One solution involves RRR internship opportunities being made more readily available to students during their studies, to give students the chance to experience the potential benefits of working in a country legal practice. This would allow students to compare their country experience to their clerkships or paralegal work in city law firms.
ALSA strongly encourages students to investigate the opportunities available in country Australia. Contact your state law society to find out more, and watch this space for more student involvement in advertising such opportunities.
Whether you already have a law job lined up or you are currently looking for work, you may find yourself surprised at what's available (and a lawyer's earning potential!) a few kilometres outside of the big city.
Jonathan Augustus is president of the Australian Law Students' Association