A law degree is a valuable piece of paper to have. For your options with your law degree there are many valuable sites, but start with this snapshot of options with a law degree and then download Careers for Law Graduates produced by Graduate Careers Australia for a discussion of career options with a law degree
For some (but not all) law students the completion of their law degree is a step towards becoming a practising barrister or solicitor. There are different rules across the Australian jurisdictions as to admission to practice but there are generally two pathways:
Admission to the Bar as a barrister, involves being admitted to practise as well as complying with “reading rules” (generally a period of 9 months’ duration, including the readers’ course).
Competition for a place in a firm is tough! You usually require high marks at University. To increase your chances:
- Participate in extracurricular activities at university, such as mooting, letter-writing competitions, or the law students’ society.
- Complete a seasonal clerkship during the third and fourth years of your degree. Some firms, particularly large commercial firms, have now moved to a system of ‘priority offers’, giving seasonal clerks preferential treatment in obtaining articles.
- Pay particular attention to the application process – follow the guidelines carefully, attend seminars on preparing your application, read guides on writing the covering letter, carefully prepare your curriculum vitae. Remember your application is only one in a large pile!
- Practise your interview technique, sample questions and answers, and be on time
- When considering where to apply for professional legal experience or traineeship, consider:
- the sort of firm that interests you:
- a large commercial firm in a city?
- a small and varied suburban practice?
- a country solicitor?
- a medium-sized firm?
- a specialised practice?
- a community legal service?
- the area/s of practice that interest you:
- general commercial law?
- personal injury litigation?
- family law?
- banking and finance?
- industrial relations?
- intellectual property?
To increase your chances of securing a position in a law firm, consider the following:
- Choose your law subjects carefully! Consider the areas of practice of the firms you are interested in!
- Choose a firm that reflects your own study preferences and you are more likely to have success.
- Choose your extracurricular activities and work experience carefully! If your intended direction is a commercial firm, you should focus your extracurricular activities accordingly. A list of community legal services, or volunteer work with alternative, political or charitable organisations is typically outside the focus of a commercial firm, but will certainly be more an appropriate choice for organisations focused within those particular fields.
There are many alternatives to a traditional law career as a barrister or solicitor. You could:
- enrol in a graduate degree in your particular field of interest – for example, a graduate diploma or Masters degree- link here to download the Council of Australian Law Deans Guide to Australia's Postgraduate Law Programs
- apply to law firms without formal closing dates, as well as for graduate positions in government departments;
- consider alternative careers in law and in other pursuits such as:
- Judges’ Associate – assisting a judge within the court system.
- In-house legal counsel – working as legal counsel within a business or company.
- Academic – teaching law students at university and researching the law.
- A position in a State or Territory Government department or an Australian Government department
- An area unrelated to the law and everything you have studied – never think that having a law degree has been a waste of your time! A law degree is something you will have for the rest of your life. The skills you have learnt in law school can be used in every professional endeavour you undertake.
A law degree can be used in a variety of commercial and business settings – particularly when coupled with another degree. Many of the available fields to choose from are:
- investment banking
- management consulting
- patent attorney (particularly those of you with a science degree);
This text is an edited extract from Claire Macken, The Law Student's Survival Guide: 9 Steps to Law Study Success, Thomsons, 2009 (2nd edition).