Updated: May 6, 2020
By Lea Fua
So after years of toil at law school, you are either close to graduating, or you have now graduated, with a law degree.
Your focus turns to your first job in the legal profession.
Do I go into private practice? Do I apply for a legal role in the public service? How do I get an interview?
These are only the start of questions you need to know the answer in order to make sure you maximise your chances of getting your first legal job.
At PLAQ, our members have put together the list below of tips and tricks that you might find useful.
If you are looking for a private practice job The most important tip is START EARLY, rather than in your final year of law school. Start applying for a graduate position in your second to last year of law school.
Most mid to large private practice firms have a structured recruitment process run by their Human Resources department. These firms typically recruit through their clerkship program so you will generally need to have been through their winter or summer clerkship program by your second to last year in law school.
For smaller boutique firms or suburban firms, their recruitment process might be different but you will need to contact these firms directly and find out. You need to be aware of key dates for graduate recruitment by private law firms - your university law society will have these dates and you should make sure you have access and are aware of these dates. Diarise them so that you do not miss them.
Be pro-active and approach law firms early in your law degree and apply for research positions or a copy centre job. This is a great way of getting to know the firm and its culture and for the firm to notice you. If they are impressed they might just offer you a job at the end of your degree. You may find that you will approach a large number of firms before you obtain work experience at a law firm early in your law degree so be persistent and don’t take rejection personally. Having legal work experience will set you apart as an applicant and law firms are always impressed by applicants who can show they have legal work experience which can include work experience at law firms, volunteering at community legal centres, clerking for a barrister, internships etc.
There is no rule on the type of legal work experience required for your first legal job but you need to show that it is a role in which you developed a skill. It also shows you have a work ethic and time management skills. Many law firms are represented by their lawyers at the Legal Careers Expo held annually in Brisbane. This is a chance for law students to meet potential employers. You should make sure you attend this. It is never too early to network with other legal professionals. Get involved in your university’s student law society and ensure you are aware of key dates in the Queensland Law Society calendar where you can meet and mingle with the profession. Once you make a good contact ensure you keep in touch with them as you will never know when you can call on them for assistance.
Volunteer at community legal centres, which has a list of community legal centres in Brisbane/Queensland who are currently seeking volunteers. You will meet and get to know practising lawyers. Some of the PLAQ members found work through lawyers they worked with at community legal centres. You may be able to gain experience in an area of law you’re passionate about- e.g. refugee assistance/immigration law (at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service Inc. (“RAILS”). You would need to confirm with each individual community law centre whether they have volunteer positions available and whether they take law students.
Enter your search parameters on www.seek.com so that you receive regular email job alerts. Check Seek daily and make contact directly with recruitment agents. Don’t be shy- make phone calls and be prompt with your job applications. Some recruitment agents who say they will keep your CV on file actually may call you back down the track.
Be open minded and flexible when you’re job hunting. Even if you’re leaning towards a particular field of law, be open to other opportunities and consider varied roles and fields of law at the start of your career. It’s all experience and part of your journey. At high school now, they are telling young people that they’re preparing them for roles that don’t even exist. To survive in the current job climate you need to be constantly learning and updating your skills. You need an open mindset and need to flexible in the work you do. In the PLA we have members with law degrees who work in varied fields including health and education. Having a law degree does not mean you must work as a lawyer. You have acquired skills such as researching and writing reports which are great skills in a variety of fields.
Be persistent and work at being positively minded. Other members in the PLAQ have applied for 100-150 jobs (which took 12-18 months) before they were successful. It’s a tight legal market. Build support networks with others in similar situations and don’t forget the firms you have applied to, including key contacts. PLAQ members have maintained tables with contact details and notes in managing their applications to ensure that they do not forget a name or statements. Recruiters remember people that are interpersonal.
Follow your dreams and build a brand for yourself. Start a blog or a petition, write some articles, network and get involved in the area you’re interested in.
If you are looking for a government job:
Apply for graduate positions in the various government departments and ensure that you submit applications before the cut of date with all supporting documentation. Check early before your final year law on government department websites for key dates and on Smartjobs.
Get a clerk or administrative position EARLY, while studying – this may be a matter of utilising your friends and family that may work in government, they are key to getting you access to various EOIs (Expressions of Interest) that are not advertised. Alternatively apply for administrative roles advertised on the Smartjobs website.
Volunteer with your local Member of Parliament. Assist with campaigns and building up your networks. A great reference from a reputable member of the public is highly regarded
When submitting a statement addressing what is called a “Selection Criteria” give specific examples of your experience, achievements in addressing the key duties i.e. customer focus, planning and time management, problem solving and learning on the fly. Ask friends and colleagues to review your statement before you lodge an application;
Do not give up! Stay positive and have faith that the right job for you is out there.
About the Author
Lea is of Tongan heritage. He works for a top tier firm in Brisbane and frequently advises on corporate advisory, capital raisings and IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity transactions. His wide-ranging knowledge extends to matters related to due diligence, takeovers, joint ventures and corporate restructuring.