Build early work experience, maximise networking, and don’t sweat the small stuff says DLS final-year student Louise Mendes.
It’s the challenge every law student inevitably faces in the final year of study: how to land a graduate law role and kick-start a career in the brave new world of legal practice.
With thousands of law graduates competing for roles across Australia’s law firms, it can sometimes seem like mission impossible but there’s key steps along the way that can make the world of career difference.
Deakin law graduate Louise Mendes – who’s set to begin a law graduate position in early 2022 – says it’s important to start building a portfolio of work experience as early as possible.
‘This can be as a legal assistant, seasonal clerk, or another administrative position that develops skills which can be translated to the legal profession.’
Louise first began her professional work experience by working as an undergraduate in an accounting firm’s restructuring and recovery division.
‘This area dealt primarily with insolvency and while not entirely law-based, it was a great position to gain experience in professional services and I learnt a lot of skills which could be directly transferred to the law profession. I think it’s a good idea to think outside the box and get experience in other areas throughout your degree,’ she says.
Recently completing a combined Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Laws, Louise will commence her graduate role with leading national law firm Mills Oakley.
She a completed a seasonal clerkship program with the firm in mid-2021 but says her preparation for a graduate position began a year earlier with 19 clerkship applications.
‘While a clerkship is not the only way to secure a graduate law role, it’s usually the most direct. It was quite a lengthy and time-consuming process – I researched every firm, tailored each cover letter to suit the firm I was applying for, researched interview questions, and then attended the interviews. When I completed my seasonal clerkship with Mills Oakley, I had to express my interest in the firm’s graduate program which I was fortunate to receive.
Over 12 months, Louise will rotate through three of the firm’s practice areas while also completing embedded Practical Legal Training (PLT).
‘PLT is further education that’s facilitated by the firm while working full-time as a graduate lawyer. It definitely makes the road to being admitted as a practising lawyer a lot easier and saves you the effort of having to organise PLT through a provider and then source further work experience,’ she explains.
Reflecting on her DLS studies, Louise says the program’s diversity and practical training has provided a solid foundation for her career launch.
‘The practical aspects of the course included drafting statements and participating in mock trials where we learnt to examine and cross-examine witnesses. It was a great way to get a feel for what lawyers do in real-world practice.’
She also undertook a DLS Work Integrated Learning unit which included writing articles based on contemporary insolvency topics.
‘It was a good change of pace that enabled me to hone my legal research skills – something you do quite regularly as a junior lawyer. I was also able to consider the hypothetical implications of issues, eliciting a higher level of understanding to insolvency laws,’ she says.
Alongside building work experience and being on the front-foot for clerkships, Louise’s advice for students seeking graduate roles is to make the most of networking opportunities.
‘Don’t be afraid to network with lawyers, particularly junior lawyers. They empathise with the journey you’ve been on and are a great resource for information about law firms and career pathways,’ she says.
Equally important, she adds, is to not to stress about the inevitable slip-ups that can happen when embarking on a new career.
‘Don’t stress over mistakes you may – and will – make while starting out your career and gaining experience. Employers don’t expect you to know it all. What’s important is completing tasks to the best of your ability and continuing to seek feedback to develop your professional skills.’
Finally, Louise says it’s important not be discouraged by assessment results – either straight out of school or throughout university.
‘Set-backs happen but if you have enough passion and ambition to do something you genuinely enjoy, you will always find a way to make those aspirations a reality.’