From law student to law graduate: making the successful transition
Every law student will inevitably reach the end of their studies and face the same challenges that come with securing a graduate role. You have the degree, now you need the job to kick-start your law career and navigate the new world that is legal practice. In this article, Lochlan Worrell, Law Graduate at Moulis Legal, shares the graduate careers advice he wishes he’d been given, and five top tips for successfully making the transition from law student to law graduate.
1. Becoming a Lawyer: Getting involved at University helps
Universities are a boiling pot of opportunity, so whether it is joining a sports team, signing up for an extracurricular moot or volunteering for charity organisations, one of the most valuable things you can do is to simply get involved. While taking on additional commitments may seem difficult to justify with an already demanding schedule, the lessons learned, and connections made will prove valuable in both the short and long term.
Expect to develop real-world skills and forge new friendships that will serve you both professionally and personally. The relationships you form now will make your studies an easier and more enjoyable experience, and perhaps help to establish your career path or provide you with opportunities later in life. More immediately, getting involved will provide you with demonstrable experience outside of your degree, proving valuable for future job applications. It will show initiative, time management and an ability to work in a team, which are all personality traits potential employers look for in law graduates.
2. What it takes to make it: Be open-minded
It’s no secret that young law students are competitive, with many wanting to attain the highest-paid and most prestigious positions available. The reality of this means most students limit their law career job search to larger organisations with structured graduate programs, and while these programs will help lay a solid foundation for a future in law, they often involve long hours, billable targets and/or competitive work environments.
So why not try your luck in small and medium-sized organisations? While most will not offer the structured graduate rotations of the large firms, they can offer a way of doing things differently without compromising on the necessary training and development.
I wanted a graduate role that did not pigeonhole me into a particular practice area; which offered the opportunity to work with senior lawyers directly and valued high-quality work over billable hours; and offered clear career progression. These are all things which I have found with Moulis Legal and are available in many other small and medium-sized firms. Ultimately, you should consider the pros and cons of a range of firms and choose something suited to you and your law career aspirations, while being open-minded about the roles and organisations on offer.
3. Securing a law graduate job: Get creative to stand out
Every graduate or student has read the job advertisement seeking a “graduate with a minimum of 2 years’ experience” and questioned how anyone gets the experience in the first place? The answer is simple – start now. The best graduate career advice I can give is that every graduate is going to leave university with a degree. If you want to stand out, you need the practical experience to back it up.
If you have secured a role already, congratulations, you did it! If you haven’t, just keep trying and you’ll get there. 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, or even tap the shoulder of lawyers you already know.
Of course, competition for paid positions is fierce. An alternative option is to speak to your university law society about their graduate career advice volunteering affiliations or contact your local community legal centre directly. Many great lawyers start their career volunteering with community legal centres; not only will it rapidly develop your skills and introduce you to the realities of legal practice, but it will look great on your resume and demonstrate key legal skills.
4. Suits is not real life: Have realistic expectations about practicing law
“Oh, you study law – isn’t being a lawyer just like ‘Suits’? You must love that show.”
It’s the question every student and lawyer will be asked at least once, if not multiple times. It is true (like most lawyers) I secretly love watching this US legal drama on Netflix in my downtime, but to put it bluntly, working as a lawyer is nothing like ‘Suits’.
Another key piece of graduate career advice, it is important to have realistic expectations about what practising 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 multi-million dollar matters in a day.
Instead, law graduates can expect steep learning curves, hard work, deadlines, ever-changing priorities and learning from your mistakes. But, 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’s worth every second.
5. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Research shows from the moment law students enter their first semester they are at a substantially higher risk of mental illness than the general population. 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 of the legal industry.
The solution is markedly simpler; make time for yourself. Research suggests the best defence against anxiety, depression and other work or study-related mental illness’ is to engage in activities you 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.
© Moulis Legal 2020