The Footnotes

LAW

Law: If it’s such a pointless degree, why are so many gravitating towards it still?

A round table discussion with a law student and two practicing lawyers.

WELCOME, TO ANOTHER FOOTNOTES ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION.

Hi Footnotes,

I am completing the HSC this year and am considering law afterwards.

A vast majority of the advice online about law is negative and warn students not to pursue it.

But, nearly everyone I know that is intelligent is pursuing a law degree. If it’s such a risky profession, why are so many gravitating towards it still?

I have many friends who were able to find jobs as paralegals or part time assistants in law firms WHILE completing their degrees, am I correct in understanding that these jobs won’t translate into real world jobs after they are finished and full-fledged lawyers?

Is the job shortage for lawyers also affecting rural areas?

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For this round table discussion we pulled in these experts:

  • Expert one: Current Law Student (No Sleep)
  • Expert two: Current Lawyer with 3 years experience (Lawyer 1)
  • Expert three: Second, Current Lawyer with 5 years experience (Lawyer 2)

The Footnotes:

I have to agree with this question, there seems to be a huge disconnect between expectation and reality with law. If it’s such a risky profession, why are so many gravitating towards it still?

Lawyer 2:

While I am a lawyer, a law degree does not necessarily equal a job as a lawyer today.

The phrase that was used when I was younger was that “a law degree is the arts degree of the 90’s”. People argue that the degree is generally considered to be a good general education, much the same way the Bachelor of Arts was before it was widely labelled as pointless (unfairly, in my opinion).

So, to your question, either a fair percentage these “intelligent people” realise that they won’t ever be lawyers and are using the degree for other purposes (it is a very good degree!). Or they are attracted to the study of law for other reasons, even if it is in many cases “Well, I got the marks”. This isn’t good enough, by the way.

The moral of the story – as with much in life – is to go into it with your eyes open, know the risks and the graduate market.

Lawyer 1:

No matter what degree you have there’s always risk involved. A science degree doesn’t mean you’ll be a scientist, a degree in counter terrorism doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job at ASIC – the list goes on.

There’s a lot of people who become lawyers and plenty who end up doing something else and their law degree isn’t necessarily wasted.

The fact that not everyone gets a law job doesn’t take away from the fact that many do.

To make it in this industry you just need the attitude that, well, you will be the one that does. You just need to put in the hard work. It’s not like playing the lotto, if you put in the hard yards – get good grades, organise a clerkship, network – you are going to get a job.

Current Law Student:

I couldn’t agree more. If you want to be a lawyer, study law. If you work hard – you’ll reap the rewards. Law can be great, or it can be a complete waste of time and money – but that’s the same for everything. The advice I give to people that ask depends usually on the person. Some people are suited to law and some people are not.

And on getting a job, it depends on the candidate’s abilities, how well they perform and how attractive they are finding employment. Going into when you are younger and at your most employable (in a law firm’s eyes) can help.

The Footnotes:

You say that you’d give different advice to different people. What does this mean?

Current Law Student:

Haha, remembering that my advice is obviously one person’s opinion….but when I try to be a realist about the heavy work load, the competitive nature of the course and the job market this is what I think:

Question: My father is a successful lawyer. I could work with him after graduating. Should I do law?

Answer: Yes

Question: I have got an ATAR above 95. I am 18. I am very ambitious and hardworking. Should I do law?

Answer: Yes

Question: I have got an ATAR above 85. I am 18. I am very ambitious and hardworking and prepared to do a bridging course that will get me accepted into law the following year. Should I do law?

Answer: Yes

Question: I got an ATAR of 90 and I don’t know what to do with my life, I am not hugely interested in law, but it sounds good. I figure I could so this degree and see where it takes me. Should I do it?

Answer: No

Question: I want to work in criminology. Should I study law?

Answer: You’ve clearly done no research, no. 

Question: I want to study law, but I struggle with writing.

Answer: No

Question: I want to “give back” and “help out those less fortunately than myself,” and I want to improve people’s lives. Human Rights Law interests me. Although the people I would be helping can’t afford legal fees, I would still need to be paid because, life.

Answer: Law that helps people, sadly, is very underpaid. 

Sometimes people are given answers that they don’t want to hear. Fair enough, but at least they didn’t go in blindly!

The Footnotes:

Our inquirer also says, “I have many friends who were able to find jobs as paralegals or part time assistants in law firms WHILE completing their degrees, am I correct in understanding that these jobs won’t translate into real world jobs after they are finished and full-fledged lawyers?” Does anyone have any advice on this?

Lawyer 2:

Again, like any degree… nothing will guarantee you a job. But a paralegal or assistant role will put you in good stead to get a role at that same law firm. It’s obviously always easier to hire someone as a graduate that you know, it’s less risky.

Lawyer 1:

My advice to anyone in Year 12 considering law,

Pros:

  1. The skills lawyers have will always be in need.
  2. It’s rewarding work.
  3. Law’s really broad in terms of practice. You could be in commercial, criminal, family – social justice! It’s so variable, and I think that is attractive.
  4. It pays well (after a few years). Full disclosure: Juniors don’t get paid well.

Cons:

  1. Reporting… the responsibility of being a lawyer is MASSIVE and scary. You are a fiduciary and an officer of the court. In my opinion the professional standards you must comply with are up there with a doctor.
  2. Jobs can be** tough to find.
  3. I just had a quick look on Seek and saw a firm wanting to pay <$70k for somebody with 6 years post admission experience.

Disclosure: It’s important to remember these are just opinions of the panel, and that this article’s advice shouldn’t be used in isolation when making your decision about law. Remember, opinions are limited to a person’s own experience. 

Law: If it’s such a pointless degree, why are so many gravitating towards it still?
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