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Principal interview: What are law firms looking for in young lawyers?

Principal interview: What are law firms  looking for in young lawyers?

By Rose George



COVID-19 has made it harder for young lawyers to get their foot in the door. As employment opportunities continue to stall, holdstock law principal Jennifer Holdstock explains how to stand out.

  • Work-life balance is essential for young lawyers to succeed. 
  • Part-time work experience, participation in community life and extra curricular activities can help candidates stand out. 
  • Undertaking a PLT course is a good option for those that have not obtained a graduate program position.

Securing your first practising role in a law firm is one of the biggest challenges faced by young lawyers. As graduate roles offered by law firms continue to stall due to the effects of COVID-19, starting a career via a graduate program is not an option for every young lawyer.

What are alternative ways of getting recognised by a firm?

Holdstock Law principal lawyer Jennifer Holdstock shares insights on what she considers desirable in candidates and the steps young lawyers can take to be recognised.

Ms Holdstock says that having work-life balance is essential for young lawyers to succeed. “The law is very demanding, so to ensure you cope and survive as a young lawyer you need to have a life balance.”

Ms Holdstock says that if you don’t have something on your resume that indicates a life outside of the law, your resume will make it to the “no” pile pretty quickly. “It doesn’t matter to me whether you are sporty, a book worm, a travel bug, have a keen interest in musical theatre or all of the above, but something outside of the law is important to remain a balanced person.”

What does a balanced lawyer look like? 

Ms Holdstock seeks not only solid grades, but also part-time work experience, participation in community life, extra curricular activities and someone with personal appeal. “I will never hire anyone who has excellent grades but no life experience. Good grades alone do not make an excellent lawyer.”

Dedicating a number of years to university, spending sleepless nights finishing off assignments and cramming your notes in before an exam are part of the preliminary process to becoming a young lawyer, but it’s important to also use the time at university to start new hobbies, learn new things and get as much experience as possible. Ms Holdstock emphasises that while grades are important to a point, “they don’t help you with office chit chat once you start".

To be a good fit, Ms Holdstock says that you need to be able to work and socialise as a part of a team. A part-time job while at school or university gives you essential life skills, such as becoming confident when dealing with difficult customers, learning team work, being able to socialise with your colleagues and contributing to society.

With recruitment processes in the industry having changed drastically due to COVID-19 and rapid developments in technology and in the way law firms practice, standing out and showing law firms your potential can be a challenge. 

What is the best way to show law firms you are a good fit? 

Contact the firm. “If there’s a place you really want to work, email or call the partner directly, show your interest and ask them if they have 30 minutes for a Zoom call,” Ms Holdstock says.

Ms Holdstock adds that although the market is tough, there are alternative measures young lawyers can take to land a practising role. Email applications have become mainstream and have grown to be the application route of choice along with the use of cvMail and other internal portals.

Undertaking a Practical Legal Training (PLT) course is a good option for those that have not obtained a graduate program position, Ms Holdstock says. She added that PLT programs include placements at firms, which is a great way of getting a foot in the door.

Finding work in the legal field during student life is a great way to make contacts and gain some valuable experience. 

You’ve landed yourself an interview. How do you make yourself stand out? 

It’s important to interview well and familiarise yourself with the firm. “It is very apparent when you interview someone if they have just found out about your firm recently from reading information on the home page,” Ms Holdstock says. If asked what you know about the firm remember to be genuine and show a real interest.

It's also important not to be too fixated on the type of law you think you want to do at the start. “Don’t narrow down your options too much,” Ms Holdstock says. “In your early years, just learn as much as you can. The best skills and experiences make the best lawyers.” ■

Rose George is associate to Judge Kevin Doyle at the County Court of Victoria and a member of the LIV YL Editorial Committee.

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