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Expectation versus the reality of COVID-19

Expectation versus the reality  of COVID-19

By Natalie Dammous

COVID-19 Occupations 

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Entering the legal profession during COVID-19 has shaped the type of lawyer Natalie Dammous is becoming.

Snapshot
  • Changes to the delivery of onsite courses because of COVID-19 meant saying goodbye to immersive training with new colleagues and pivoting to studying at home.
  • A challenging aspect of this year has been managing expectation around the admission ceremony.
  • A highly competitive job market was exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. New graduates are competing with junior lawyers with more experience.

As I reflect on this turbulent year, I recall starting 2020 with determination and exhilaration. I was set to begin practical legal training (PLT), undertake placement at a law firm, be admitted as an Australian lawyer and – all going well – find a job. Talk about an exciting year.

Pre COVID-19

I began PLT at Leo Cussen as an onsite trainee with the promise of face-to-face delivery of the course. The onsite program allowed me to meet new colleagues and build my professional network. I found the immersive style of learning was equipping me with the skills I needed to enter the legal arena.

However, change was on its way in the form of COVID-19. Leo Cussen had to adapt the delivery of the onsite course to an online variation. This meant saying goodbye to immersive onsite training with my new colleagues and saying hello to studying at home with my dogs. My initial excitement quickly dulled to reluctant acceptance. I was forced to change my expectations and adapt to this new style of learning. Studying remotely was not without its challenges. Onsite, I relied heavily on friends, peers and mentors for strategising and using team work to resolve legal problems. At home, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone and rapidly adjust to independent learning. Without the comfort and familiarity of the people around me, I discovered a newfound independence and resilience. A positive outcome from an undesirable situation.

Admission to practice during COVID-19

Aside from the practical difficulties presented by COVID-19, the most challenging aspect of this year has been managing the expectation of what was supposed to be the most thrilling and profound part of my journey from law student to lawyer – the admission ceremony. Like many law graduates, I have associated the Supreme Court admission ceremony as a rite of passage signifying the end of many years of working towards becoming a lawyer. Due to COVID-19, the traditional ceremonies were unable to proceed and instead the process changed to allow for admission on the papers. While I was disappointed to not have had the traditional ceremonial experience, I am incredibly appreciative of the adaptation that allowed me and many other graduates to complete our legal journey and be admitted to practice. 

Employment as a newly admitted graduate during COVID-19

In addition to the challenges of studying online full time, a concern that followed me through the final months of law school and the beginning of PLT was the difficult job market. I had anticipated competition, but this was exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. 

I was being told by many junior lawyers, paralegals and law clerks (friends and colleagues) that they were being made redundant as a result of the economic effects of COVID-19. This meant an increase in the number of applicants in the pool of recent graduates seeking employment. 

The stress around finding a job as a graduate lawyer worsened when I realised I was not only competing against other graduates with the same qualifications, but also recently terminated junior lawyers who had experience greater than mine. This continues to be the situation for recent graduates and newly admitted lawyers. My advice is to stay positive.

Today

Finishing law school, graduating PLT, becoming admitted as a lawyer and finding your first legal job are significant achievements. Despite the rollercoaster that has been this year, we should not lose sight of these accomplishments. What started off as a year of excitement and promise has transformed into a year of growth and resilience. I now possess skills which will assist me as a legal practitioner. This year has included a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practise, being admitted as a lawyer on the papers and finding a job that I love. Despite the obstacles and challenges, 2020 has delivered the excitement, growth and promise that I had been expecting. COVID-19 may have changed the way that I accomplished my goals, but it hasn’t stopped me from succeeding. ■


Natalie Dammous is a law clerk at Baker Jones Lawyers and a member of the LIV YL Social Committee.


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