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The realities of a job hunting with a law degree

Job hunting as a newbie lawyer can be a shock for students led to believe it’s relatively simple to get a job after university.

Reality is getting a job and building a career is just as difficult, if not more difficult, than getting through university. Eep.

Knowing what job hunting as a fresh-out-of-grad-school lawyer is (really) like can help you manage your expectations and recover your confidence quickly from any setbacks.

So here goes:

1. You may not work in your preferred area right away.

Due to high competition, only very lucky graduates land positions in the areas of law they want to work in from the get go. Don’t let that deter you though. Getting legal experience is the priority so don’t stress too much about accepting a position outside your preferred area. After all, you’re infinitely better off with 12 months legal experience than remaining unemployed.

2. Many good opportunities are short, fixed-term contracts.

Traditionally, graduates were taken on for an initial two-year contract period. However, this has changed. While these positions still exist, employers are increasing searching for graduates and junior lawyers under 3 month or 6 month contract periods. The reason? Specific, short-term projects.

Don’t be scared to apply for these positions. As mentioned, getting any legal experience should be a priority plus, a shor, fixed-term contract could lead to further work or a permanent position.

3. You may job jump for a few years.

Those days of staying at the same law firm 15 or 20 years are gone. There are many reasons for this.

While some op tier firms have kept investing in their two-year training programs others have reduced graduate programs to a 12-month, fixed-term contract or shorter. Remember that a fixed-term contract is always going to end: it’s not personal. Work hard regardless, earn a good reference and move on (likely to bigger and brighter things).

It’s also common to change jobs in the first few years of your career as you try and find an area of law that suits you and a work culture.

4. It takes a long time to job hunt.

The average time it takes a person to find a job is six months with a recruitment process for one position averaging two to three months. Don’t be disheartened if your search is taking time. You mightn’t hear anything for weeks and weeks and then suddenly receive plenty of interviews!

5. You will either be under or over-qualified for positions.

Junior lawyer positions tend to be advertised at graduate level or someone with three or more years experience. If you fall between these levels you will either be under-qualified or overqualified for jobs. Don’t be afraid to apply for positions you think you may be under-qualified for. There is a large variation in ability level between junior lawyers.

6. You will need to do A LOT of applications.

Don’t be surprised if you apply for 30 jobs, get a handful of first round interviews, three or four second round interviews and an offer for one role. It’s the nature of the beast.

7. Prepare (if possible) for the unexpected.

In one interview I was quizzed on the Chief Justices of all the state Supreme Courts. I knew some but not all of the answers. If the unexpected situation or question occurs, try and remain calm and if you do not know the answer, the best option is usually to say you do not know and quickly change the topic to something positive.

8. Be prepared for questions about resilience and adaptability in your interview.

I have consistently been asked in interviews to provide examples where I showed resilience. It’s best practise to have an answer planned and rehearsed. Stick to examples from university and work (that’s all they’re interested in anyway).

9. Good grades are not enough.

Most applicants for a position will have solid grades from law school. It is the additional qualities that you can bring to the role that’ll usually get you the position. This could be your personality, your prior work experience or your hobbies.

10. Look outside your hometown.

Unless you are locked down by family commitments, you really need to look more broadly for junior lawyer positions.

It’s important to spread applications as broadly as possible, especially if you’re looking at a niche job. For example, if you want to work at Crown Solicitors apply for Crown Solicitors in every state. You can be more selective about location once you have more experience.

11. Someone else will decide what you do and when.

I found the most difficult aspect of working as a law graduate was the complete loss of control over my day. Unlike university where you can plan your assignments, homework and breaks, junior lawyers are often at the ad hoc (i.e. impromptu and ever-changing) mercy of their firm. You could have barely any work the whole day and then be given six hours of urgent work at 5pm. This can be tiring to start with but it’s a characteristic of almost all junior legal jobs and something that you’ll get used to.

12. You’ll probably be paid award rate.

Unless you are working at a top-tier firm, it’s very likely you will be paid award rate as a law graduate. Do not expect to be raking it in. Be grateful to have a job and getting legal experience.

13. When you get a job, you will do a lot of busy work.

Junior lawyers predominantly engage in ‘unglamorous law’. Work does not centre around how interesting or educational it is for a law graduate. Chances are you will be working on small matters for a while.

This article has been republished with full permission. Monika Holmwood first published this article here on her personal blog page.

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