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From the CEO: Invest in the future

Cite as: September 2014 88 (09) LIJ, p.06

Offering an internship could benefit you and the profession.

Why take on the expense and time commitment of training a next generation lawyer? What’s in it for you?

Law firms are currently in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose from an oversupply of talented law students when it comes to offering positions.

Job openings are so scarce for recent graduates there is no doubt that not all will get positions in firms to allow them to complete the training required for them to qualify to practise law.

The old days of “articles” are long gone and many graduates now face a difficult task to get a foot in the door of a law firm.

Since July 2008, there have been two paths to admission for law graduates in Victoria – practical legal training (PLT) or supervised workplace training (traineeships).

While a lucky few still get offered a graduate position with a top tier law firm, there are other pathways into the law for the majority.

I’d encourage our small, medium and large law firms to consider offering a law student an internship. It could benefit you as well as the student.

There are good reasons to invest in the future by taking on a law graduate.

Unless you reinvest you cannot reinvigorate your practice.

I know that most lawyers believe in giving back to the community. Part of that giving could be providing the ability for others to enter the legal profession just as they were given that opportunity by a perceptive lawyer all those years ago.

There is a challenge for the profession in making sure we secure good quality people who are currently missing out on becoming lawyers because they cannot obtain the necessary workplace experience.

There is certainly enough paid work for lawyers to do and valid reasons for broadening the pool of lawyers available to do it.

Lawyers might choose to take on a legal intern as part of:

  • a succession plan. Even if you are not planning on leaving the law for many years, it can take that long to develop leadership skills in your chosen successor;
  • an expansion plan. There is more work available than there are people to do it. Hire some help;
  • a work/life balance plan. If you cut back on the hours/days you spend in the firm, and find more time for hobbies/interests/family activities you might even extend your career in the law. Diversify before you burn out.

There are 36 law schools nationally and the total number of domestic students studying a bachelor-level law degree grew 31 per cent from 2001 to 2012, according to data from the federal Department of Education national university database.

There has also been a corresponding jump at the postgraduate level with the growth of law courses such as the Juris Doctor.

While it is true that law is a good general qualification for those hoping to enter other fields such as commerce or politics, most law students intend to become practising lawyers.

Taking on a law graduate through a traineeship program is a big commitment. Not all firms have the resources or staff to hire and supervise multiple law students for a year.

But there are alternatives.

There are three providers of practical legal training in Victoria. The LIV has an association with one of them, the College of Law, which runs frequent courses throughout the year and can help “match” students and organisations.

College of Law students do either a 25 day (with additional course work) or 75 day work experience stint with a firm to help them qualify for legal practice.

Increasingly, these work experience periods are being offered unpaid, as part of a legitimate educational requirement.

The shorter stints with a firm have benefits for both parties. They allow students and the firm to “try before they buy”. Firms can see if a student will be “fit for practice” and the graduate can see if the firm offers work in a field that interests and engages them.

It is also a useful way for rural, regional and remote practices to entice law students to come and try the country lifestyle.

If it doesn’t work out there is no requirement for the firm to keep the intern.

But on the bright side, you may have found yourself a good, new, enthusiastic lawyer.

What’s to lose?

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