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Career advice for law students

James Davis

Law’s a competitive field, no matter where you go. With these tips, you’ll improve your chances of landing a job after graduation.

I don’t need to tell you how fascinating law can be to study. The unending tower of lego we call precedent. The curious case studies. More reading than a sentient library. All of it contributes to the excitement, but may not completely prepare you for the journey to professional life. So, here are some tips you can use to grow your employment prospects and think outside the box.

Do extensive research on what all specialisations entail professionally

If you’re late into your degree, or have already graduated, this is difficult but not impossible. Your experience studying any given legal specialisation may differ significantly from the practice itself, so choosing one you can see yourself in is paramount. The following are some actions you can take to get a better idea of the professional landscape, the details of which are covered later:

  • Take part in paralegal and clerkships
  • Contact the Government Legal Network
  • Get advice from professional connections via networking events and experience
  • Ask professors with experience outside academia for insights

Make smart, early clerkship/ paralegal applications

We talked about this during our general internships article, but it’s doubly important for students with their sights on law careers. Getting applications in as early as your first year will give you the most time to refine your process, do interviews and find programs that suit your career aspirations. By starting early, you’ve got more time in the event you’re unsuccessful or simply want an alternative. It’s also a chance to get first-hand insights into what lawyers do in your specialisation. Many students take these opportunities to discover if law’s even for them, which is honestly one of the most valuable benefits. After all, discovering you don’t like law in your first or second year is far more valuable than getting all the way to the end and learning the hard way.

It doesn’t matter if you feel ill-equipped to apply. No company is expecting a wizened professional from their internship program. Your enthusiasm, curiosity and attentiveness are enough. First year, third year, eighth year, doesn’t matter. The best time to apply was yesterday!

Take every networking opportunity you can find

Who you know is very important for law careers, especially in New Zealand where there are only around 13,000 lawyers compared to the 10,000 students studying at any given time. Student societies, company networking events and government programs all feature opportunities to meet industry professionals and collect business cards. Even if you’re just sending quick emails to these people asking a good question about their work, that’s enough. It puts your name in their mind, so if and when you wish to apply at their company or institute, you’ll be better regarded. Worst case scenario? You could learn something about the hiring process through your question that other graduates wouldn’t know.

Another trick is contacting your lecturers and asking if they require an assistant over the winter break/ summer. Even if it’s a fairly informal position, this is an often-overlooked way of getting some experience in those awkward periods when internship applications have closed. You can learn a lot simply by reading what’s being researched, why it’s needed and questioning what can be learned from it. This might seem daunting given much of your coursework up until now has likely consisted of more readings than Spock’s tricorder, but it’s definitely worth the time.

Get in touch with the New Zealand Government Legal Network

This can provide law graduates with clerkships in the public sector over summer. If you’re an aspiring public servant, this is an excellent first choice for getting started in your career, but it’s a great option for any law student. Experience varies between whichever department graduates are assigned to, but all are an opportunity to learn valuable skills in the midst of real-world legal decision making, such as research, proofing and drafting agreements or cross-examination scripts.

This is also a good source of information on myriad law careers. If you’re unsure about what your specialisation could entail day-to-day, particularly in the public sector, they can enlighten you.

Get involved with relevant campus competitions and activities

Moot court or debating competitions are exceptional expressions of enthusiasm. Taking part in these tells employers you’ve got a competitive spirit and have taken time to develop your primary legal skills like forming arguments and case knowledge, as well as soft skills like strong communication. What makes these so good is the low barrier to entry. All it takes is the desire to say ‘yes’ and you’re setting yourself up for some great resume boosters that will bolster your confidence and ability. Don’t stress if you’re not Atticus Finch off the bat. Just giving it a go is the most important thing.

Don’t be afraid to look outside law careers

According to Stephen Penk, the Dean of Students (Law) at the University of Auckland, about 50% of law students don’t even go into legal practice, with significant numbers never aspiring to become lawyers at all. In fact, most New Zealand law students study two degrees to facilitate flexible career ambitions. Clearly, it’s seen by many students as a generalist accompaniment to other programs.

 

This is a great way to look beyond traditional career pathways. After all, a law degree equips graduates with excellent communication and research skills, which are used extensively beyond legal professions. If you’re one of the many law students in a double degree, don’t be afraid to get creative. Even students in law degrees can benefit from exploring careers outside the profession that could make use of their skills, like in management consulting, working for the federal government, corporate negotiations and more.

With these tips, you should be better equipped to make informed career decisions and land a job well-suited to your interests. A law degree is a great investment, but knowing your options is an important part of leveraging it. No matter where you take your degree however, the future is undoubtedly bright for confident graduates, both inside and outside New Zealand!

This is a great way to look beyond traditional career pathways. After all, a law degree equips graduates with excellent communication and research skills, which are used extensively beyond legal professions. If you’re one of the many law students in a double degree, don’t be afraid to get creative. Even students in law degrees can benefit from exploring careers outside the profession that could make use of their skills, like in management consulting, working for the federal government, corporate negotiations and more.

With these tips, you should be better equipped to make informed career decisions and land a job well-suited to your interests. A law degree is a great investment, but knowing your options is an important part of leveraging it. No matter where you take your degree however, the future is undoubtedly bright for confident graduates, both inside and outside New Zealand!