Think that just because you’ve studied a law degree, you’ll be stuck in one industry? Here are five careers you can have with a law degree in five different industries.
Michelle, Law Professor
Salary: $149,789 (Age 52)
First job: When I first graduated from uni, I started working as a Legal Research Officer at the NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office. I was helping with research on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and I found it very depressing.
Current job: I now work as a professor, teaching the undergraduate and Juris Doctor program. As a professor, I also get the chance to conduct my own research and academic writing, mainly in copyright law. I became interested in copyright years ago because I had a lot of friends who were artists (in some shape or form) and they would ask me questions about it.
Best thing about my job: I really enjoy the intellectual interactions with students, helping them learn new things about areas that interest them. For example, at the moment I’m teaching first year JD students “Introducing Law and Justice” and I love their enthusiasm and hearing them question concepts. I also really value the privilege of being able to conduct my research. Occasionally, I teach a course in the Masters program called “Law and the Culture Industries”.
My work is also fairly flexible, compared to other careers in law. If I have no meetings or classes, I tend to do my research from home. I’m usually working on a number of research projects at a time, so that keeps it interesting.
Worst thing about my job: Never having enough time in the day.
Josiah, Environmental Lawyer
Salary: $94, 327 (Age 34)
First job: When I was in university, I had my mind set on environmental science, so I did work experience with a marine biologist. But I realised this kind of work wasn’t able to domino the change that I was passionate about, so I decided to move into the legal side of things.
Current job: I’m a litigator, specialising in environmental law. Basically, I sue big corporations for water pollution. Litigators like me actually spend a minuscule amount of time in court. Most of our work involves phone calls, email, legal and factual research, document review, meetings, and writing. Once every few years, we go to trial, which requires months of tremendously intense effort.
Best part of my job: What I love about my job is that there are few areas of law that are so bound up with science. There is an entire industry made up of environmental consultants, many of whom make their living from finding ways to minimise the appearance of risk from pollution. Businesses often know that their work will cause damage to the environment and hire environmental consultants to make sure they are ‘just’ on the right side of the law.
I do not believe in ‘just’ being on the right side of the law, and want to promote the community to look at how we can make sure we leave enough in our water systems to make sure that we can maintain water quality. It’s really important to me. I really enjoy being part of that process.
Advice: My advice, is to look for a double degree, for example Arts/Law, this will give you the freedom to study environmental majors or with a science combination. You need to demonstrate your commitment to the public interest, on top of just having a law degree. Be creative and persistent and you’ll feel proud that you are making a positive impact on society.
Tim, Barrister in the Entertainment Industry
Salary: $86,000 (Age 41)
First job: Early in my career I was an associate to Justice Hill in the Federal Court. I went on to become a senior associate at Mallesons, as well as working in Finland where I was in-house legal counsel at Nokia and GE Healthcare. My work in-house included patent licensing, telecommunications standardisation consortiums and open source licensing.
Current job: I’m a barrister and I work on one or two film matters a month. However, most of my work is intellectual property, tax and probate. My film work ranges from intellectual property – confirming a clean chain of title, confirming whether a creative contributor has copyright or any other rights in a project; contract – confirming whether a project falls within the definition of “sequel” in a production agreement, advising the producer how to terminate a distribution agreement; broadcasting law – advising producers about whether their project qualifies as “Australian content”; debt recovery – for Australian production services rendered to an offshore company; and corporations law.
Best and worst thing about my job: I love the variety of my work, but I hate that I never know where my next job is coming from.
Advice: Ultimately, remember that it’s not all over because your first job is not your dream job – you can always transition to another area of law, and no experience is ever wasted.
Emily, Human Rights Lawyer
Salary: $108,950 (Age 26)
First job: So it wasn’t technically paid work, but my first real world legal work experience came in my final year of university. I wanted to do some volunteer work overseas that would utilise my legal skills, so I went to Tanzania for a month and was part of a small team providing legal and human rights advice to women’s groups and to boys held in a retention centre. We worked under the supervision, of a local legally trained Tanzanian woman. Basically, we met with the women’s groups and we’d take turns providing presentations on an issue like inheritance law or the rights of children born out of wedlock and discussing the law and answering questions. We would often also meet with individual women seeking advice on their personal situation.
Current job: After my experience in Africa I was set on working in human rights. I started at a practice that was known to have excellent pro bono practice and a health law practice. I love the pro bono stuff and work on a variety of matters from human rights, to discrimination law, stolen generations cases and general pro bono management.
Worst part of my job: I’m a lawyer, which means my job is to understand, interpret and advise on the law. Like all lawyers, it can be long days sitting in front of a computer reading reports and case law.
Advice: What I have learnt in my career is that all roads lead to Rome – what I mean is that there are so many ways that you can change the world and not all of them are as a human rights lawyer. Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres are on the front lines every day helping thousands upon thousands of individuals in desperate need of assistance. NGOs, charities and peak bodies are often involved in law reform and legal analysis. For the vast majority of people who really need help, a lawyer with knowledge of credit and debt issues, criminal law, family law and housing will be able to help them far more than an intricate knowledge of UN treaties.
Hannah, In-house legal counsel for Telstra
Salary: $177,250 (Age 28)
First job: After completing a summer clerkship at the end of my penultimate year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a graduate position at Ashurst. I really loved the practice of law, but the culture of competitiveness in corporate law just wasn’t for me.
Current job: I now work as legal counsel for Telstra, in the enterprise customer contracting team, which basically means innovating contacts to improve the customer experience and deliver value for the business. I also provide legal support in the management and distribution of consumer branded retail partners. I get to execute strategies and advise on risks in relation to the implementation of retail strategies.
Best part of my job: The variety of work and the broadening of my legal expertise is what I value most about my job. As in-house counsel, you need to step up and take responsibility quickly because the role necessitates taking more decisions than a law firm associate might typically be expected to make.
Advice: In regard to working as in-house counsel, I would recommend that early on you walk around the office, get fully on board with the values, culture, ways of doing business, and crucially, figure out who are the right people to talk to. Also, if you’re working for a smaller business, you need to be proactive in building a network of other in-house lawyers at other companies because otherwise it can feel quite lonely without a large team of lawyers around you.