A career in the legal sector can take any number of forms. For example, you could find yourself working in a criminal law firm as a solicitor or barrister, providing legal advice, representing clients, and preparing legal documents. Alternatively, you could work in a legal aid office, providing affordable counsel and advocacy to members of the community. You might be employed in-house at a company, processing patents, shepherding transactions, or working with public relations teams. Finally, you may find yourself creating or advising on policy for the government or other lobby groups.
While the law sector continues to be popular among students, opportunities to launch a traditional career are becoming more competitive, especially as the number of law graduates continues to increase each year, creating a surplus of qualified graduates. According to the New Zealand Law Society, there has been a 24 per cent increase in the number of lawyers since 2011, compared to a 12 per cent increase in the population. With one lawyer for every 365 citizens, graduates who wish to enter the profession and flourish must be prepared to distinguish themselves with hard work, grit, and a willingness to make the most of limited opportunities for advancement.
Graduate solicitors earn an average salary of $45,000. However, with experience, the median salary for lawyers in private practice rises to $75,000, with a salary range of $42,000 to $140,000.
The number of students graduating from law degrees in New Zealand has grown consistently from year to year for the past decade, with millennials now accounting for 44 per cent of all lawyers in New Zealand. Combined with the limited number of entry-level positions in New Zealand, this unfortunately means, for now, that the chances of getting a job as a solicitor are poor for new entrants and merely average for those with experience. The number of lawyers admitted each year currently hovers at around 1,000, with around seven percent of lawyers moving into legal practice.
Of course, it should be emphasised that a law degree offers various career paths outside of private practice. For example, many companies rely on in-house counsel to advise on business decisions, review contracts, support hiring processes, and more. Similarly, lawyers play a critical role in government positions, whether it be by developing policies, drafting government briefs, or supporting the operations of agencies like the New Zealand Ombudsman.
Because of the stiff competition faced by grads, it’s imperative that graduates perform at the top of their game throughout the interview process and proceed to distinguish themselves on the job. It may be competitive, but there are still opportunities available for those with the drive and talent to stand out in the corporate sector.
Work on building a solid CV with a clerkship, summer internship, or work shadowing, and show that you have a personal interest in the work you do via the activities you undertake out of hours – anything from manning the phones at a legal aid office to organising a social event for the university law society.
Specialist skills, such as fluency in another language, will help to set you apart from the crowd and give you an edge on the other candidates. Now’s the time to distinguish yourself in any way you can, and those skills you learned at university that aren’t necessarily law-related – such as computer literacy, proofreading, or event management – can make all the difference between you and another applicant.
If you’re confident or have a novel idea on how to practice law, you could even become one of the entrepreneurs that sets up an alternative law practice using technology and social media to market their services.
Law practices revolve around working with people, so being able to relate to and empathise with a client’s situation will help you understand and advocate for them more effectively.
Law requires advanced communication skills, as it involves plenty of reading, writing and speaking. You’ll need to feel comfortable talking with clients about some of the most difficult experiences they’ll ever endure, from custody disputes to criminal proceedings.
It’s essential that you’re able to come up with creative ways to win your case or seal the deal, so be prepared to demonstrate these skills during interviews.