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Think Critically, Act Strategically

Think Critically, Act Strategically

By Rose Inglis


Congratulations on making it to the business end of your law degree. This is an inevitably exciting and stressful stage of your studies as you start thinking seriously about what you will do after leaving university. You may be feeling alarmed with the increased frequency in which you are being asked – “so what do you want to do after you graduate?”. You may be feeling alarmed that the person sitting next to you seems to have it all figured out while you have no idea.  You may be reasonably confident that a career in Big Law is not for you, but unsure what steps to take or where to look for alternative legal career opportunities.

I was in both of these categories. The purpose of this article is to share a perspective that I wish I had been made aware of whilst completing my legal studies. Many law students are confident that the conventional seasonal clerkship -  graduate traineeship route is the path for them. However, if you are unsure on the precise career path you want to take, my advice is to think critically about the type of career you aspire to and then think strategically about which opportunities to pursue that will position you as a highly competitive candidate once the time comes to apply.

Think critically…

Legal qualification promises diverse career possibilities. Indeed, the variety of different intellectually challenging, worthwhile career pathways is an integral part of the initial appeal. However, with diverse possibilities comes extensive choices and the amount of choice may seem daunting. It may be useful to think about what type of organization you might like to work in, what type of clients you might want to represent and advise, and what type of work you might enjoy.
For example, you may be interested in criminal law. A career in criminal law may involve becoming:

  • a prosecutor at the Office of Public Prosecutions, working in-house within a government department or advising government clients in private practice
  • a defence lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid, working within a specialist criminal defence law firm or working at a smaller firm in suburban or regional Victoria where criminal law may comprise of a more general portfolio of legal work relevant to people’s everyday lives
  • a judicial associate, or obtaining another judicial/court role such as a registrar
  • an accredited specialist in white collar crime in a global firm, where your clients could be international
  • a solicitor practicing in white collar crime, corporate crime or regulatory investigations in organisations involved in state, federal and cross-border litigation.

Similarly, if you are reasonably confident that you want to live and work internationally one day, think about what areas of law and which organisations will open these doors for you.
The key is to consider the type of career you want, and then think strategically about where you focus your efforts.
Some useful questions that may help you figure out such things include:

  • Which area/s of law am I interested in and why?
  • What type of clients would I like to represent?
  • What type of organisation would I like to work for?
  • What type of work would like to do on a daily basis?
  • What skills do I need to position myself as a highly competitive candidate for my chosen career pathway?
  • Which lawyers, in real life or in fiction, do I admire and why?
  • Who should I network with to meet people already doing the type of work I am interested in?

Act strategically…

At this stage of your studies, it may seem like the only option is to successfully secure a seasonal clerkship. Of course, a seasonal clerkship is one way to obtain invaluable legal experience during your studies. However, there are many other terrific opportunities out there to help law students, such as yourself, build professional experience and secure networking opportunities that will help you embark upon the path to success. For example

  • Within your university: Look out for opportunities like international exchanges, short-term partner programs, a legal clinic or internship where you can gain practical legal experience and course credits or work placements where you can extend your industry-based experience
  • The Legal Forecast (TLF) is a not-for-profit run by early-career professionals, including many law students, who are passionate about disruptive thinking and access to justice and run extremely interesting events and publish a very informative blog throughout the year.
  • LIV Young Lawyers offers free membership to law students and exclusive access to a broad range of resources and opportunities that will help you navigate the initial stages of your legal career including the Young Lawyers Online Resource Centre, mentoring, networking events and opportunities to have your work published in the Young Lawyers Journal and Blog.   

If you think critically, then you can act strategically. For example, if you are reasonably confident that you will want to work overseas one day for a NGO, you could start paving the way for that now. You could participate in an international exchange, get involved in the TLF; and/or join the Young Lawyers Law Reform Committee where you can connect with like-minded early career professionals and join a working group on modern slavery or the Victorian Human Rights Charter. Each of these opportunities will equip you with a diverse skillset and network of professionals already working in that area.

For those who choose not to embark upon the clerkship route, or otherwise miss out on securing a clerkship, please take comfort in the knowledge that three of my dear friends who are currently enjoying some of the most interesting legal careers, did not commence their careers though the conventional seasonal – traineeship track. One sat the NY Bar Exam and is currently a human rights/refugee attorney in LA, USA; after completing a judicial associateship with a federal court judge, working on native title and industrial cases, another friend is now heavily involved in local politics; whilst another friend in my same my same graduation cohort has pursued an incredibly interesting career in criminal law and policy which has seen her work in South Africa, the UK, the Department of Justice of Victoria and now as a Solicitor at the OPP.

When you are weighing up options, I strongly urge you to think critically and work smarter. Once you are reasonably clear on the type of law you are interested in, or organisation you might thrive working in or the type of clients you would like to, it will make it easier to identify those opportunities that will provide you with the skills, experience and network relevant to that career path.  This way you can position yourself as a highly competitive candidate when application time comes around. If all else fails, pursue things that challenge, intimidate and excite you as, after all, magic only happens when you are pushed outside your comfort zone.

Rose Inglis is Manager of LIV Young Lawyers. Please reach out if you are keen to get involved

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