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Going corporate is not the only option

Going corporate is not the only option

By Kirsti Weisz

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Public interest law covers a diverse mix of careers in the legal profession that many law students or even young lawyers may not be aware of. From drafting legislation to researching government policies, this legal career focuses on improving access to justice for vulnerable or disadvantaged members of society.

As the careers and publications vice-president for the Progressive Law Network (Monash’s equivalent to a public interest law club), I have been working with the Castan Centre for Human Rights to update a careers guide. Doing this has opened my eyes to the various roles for law graduates aside from working in a commercial setting.

Non-government organisations (NGOs)

Not for profit, NGO work can be the most beneficial career pathway in public interest law. NGOs include community legal centres (CLCs), legal services and less legal based NGOs like Amnesty International, The Salvation Army or even Animals Australia.

CLCs can be a perfect solution for law students interested in both policy and law reform but who still want to interact with people on an individual basis and offer legal advice. CLCs are independent, not-for-profit organisations that provide free legal services to the public. There are both specialist and generalist CLCs which means you can either assist clients with an unlimited range of legal matters or focus on a particular area such as family violence, disability or refugee law.

CLCs generally have a small graduate intake. For example, Fitzroy Legal Service employs 10 lawyers and only takes one graduate a year. Depending on the role, experience working or volunteering in a CLC or similar organisation may be viewed favourably.

Professional legal associations

For those passionate about legal education, writing and generally supporting the legal profession, working for a professional legal body can be rewarding. These legal bodies, including the LIV and the Victoria Law Foundation (VLF), engage in various roles from supporting and holding the profession accountable to encouraging a greater understanding of the law within society.

The VLF is a good example of a professional legal body. It provides free publications with the aim of helping

Victorians better understand the law. It also has a website called Everyday-Law which offers a reliable, easy-to-understand source of legal information.

While the VLF does not offer a graduate program, there is an internship available to law students. Skills looked on favourably include research, writing, organisation and the ability to work independently.

Regulators

Australia has many regulatory agencies working to keep the legislature in check. Lawyers working in these statutory bodies can be directly involved in ensuring accountability requirements are met. There are also non-legal roles that graduates in law may be interested in, depending on the regulator.

Australia’s peak consumer protection and competition agency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, offers graduate opportunities which may appeal to law students who are passionate about consumer rights. While completing a law degree is not a prerequisite, law and public policy are listed as recognised areas of study. Graduates are involved in activities including analysing key market sectors, investigating complaints from business or consumers and consumer liaison.

Law reform commissions

Law reform commissions provide independent advice to government about reforming laws that may be out of date, discriminatory or too complex. While the recommendations are not automatically adopted, law reform commissions wield a lot of influence in how that area of law develops. Such commissions undertake an extensive process to conduct research, including consultations and expert panels. Useful skills for working in a law reform commission include experience in policy development, research work, public consultation and policy work in a CLC.

The Australian Law Reform Commission does not offer a graduate program but it does have an internship available in Sydney for law students. Applicants able to demonstrate an interest in policy and law reform are viewed favourably.

Legal journalism

Studying journalism and law produce similar skills including synthesising ideas, writing succinctly and investigating key issues. While experience in journalism is essential to getting into the industry, once you secure a job legal knowledge can be an asset. Focusing on legal affairs or court reporting can be particularly rewarding for law graduates who want to use their understanding of the law.

While mainstream media outlets such as The Age and the ABC have limited positions in legal journalism, there are other publications with opportunities for specialising in legal reporting including Lawyers Weekly, HC Online and The Australasian Lawyer.

Facilitating change

Studying law provides analysis, research, critical thinking and other skills relevant to many career pathways.

The legal career pathways I have listed are not the only ones available to graduates in law. There are other opportunities such as:

  • alternative dispute resolution
  • jury consultant
  • judge’s associate
  • academia
  • legal research and development
  • (such as Austlii or LexisNexis)
  • legal analyst.

Some useful sites for researching legal careers include Social Justice Opportunities, the Castan Centre Public Interest Law Careers Guide and Beyond Law.

Law weaves its way into many spheres of society, so it’s only natural that many non-legal jobs are open to graduates in law. Many of these legal pathways suit people looking to promote change within society and hoping to be part of an ethical workplace with similar values.


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