Katrina Nathan: Your law degree can take you places outside of a traditional law firm

Katrina is a Management Consulting Analyst at Accenture here in Brisbane. Katrina comes from a strong maths and sciences background and has ended up in law after doing a legal studies subject when she moved to Australia from Singapore. Katrina spent her last year of law school as a full-time law student, working three jobs and also completing her Practical Legal Training (PLT) course early! Katrina explains the importance of time management and writing to-do lists in order to successfully navigate a demanding workload. Katrina shares a lot of great tips and reminds us all that there are opportunities in law outside of getting a job as a lawyer in a law firm.

you don’t have to follow the traditional law path

Katrina was born in New Zealand, then moved to Singapore where she majored in biology and chemistry in her GCSEs. When Katrina moved to Australia in her final year of High School, she chose math and science subjects but she also chose legal studies. Katrina found the first couple of years of her law degree challenging as she came from a strong maths and sciences background. Katrina found that maths and sciences were very black and white but with law, there are often multiple ways to argue something and many possible outcomes for a problem.

Katrina’s role at Accenture has meant that she didn’t follow the traditional law path of getting a job as a lawyer in a law firm. The skills Katrina learnt during law school, including research, problem solving, contract law and analytical skills, are skills needed in her role as a consultant. Katrina completed a minor in Finance, which meant that she completed finance subjects instead of some law electives. There were only three law electives that interested Katrina, so she researched and found that she could do a four subject minor in finance. This gave Katrina a broader idea of the jobs available outside of the traditional law pathway. When looking for a job, Katrina didn’t restrict her applications to law firms and has ended up in a role where she can combine law and finance.   

Something to note– you may find it difficult to write 1500 or 2000 words in your first year or so of your law degree, but by the time you reach your final year and have 5000 word assignments – it is likely you’ll be wishing you had more words! So, it does get easier as you go and research assignments aren’t as scary as they seem once you’ve done a few.

commencing PLT early

Katrina completed her law degree full-time as an internal student. Katrina also worked three jobs with a total of 30 hours per week in her final year – AND Katrina also completed her PLT early. This meant that Katrina was doing 2 advanced law units, 5 PLT units as well as working three jobs in her final semester!! (Impressive, right!?) In her final year, Katrina had three units for her first semester and two for her second semester, so she enquired about commencing PLT early. In order to do this, Katrina had to apply to the Legal Practitioners Admissions Board for approval. You are able to commence PLT early (while you are still completing your law degree) where you have already completed the Priestley 11 units, so where you only have advanced electives left. For Katrina, this meant that she commenced PLT in June 2018 and in December 2018 she graduated with her law degree and had also completed PLT. Katrina was then able to be admitted in February this year. Katrina explains that in her industry of corporate and tax law, it is male dominated and so the seniority that being admitted gives you is quite important. Especially being a young person, it may give you a boost to your career to be admitted as a lawyer as soon as possible.

the importance of effective time management

In her final year of law school Katrina worked three jobs – as a tutor, an assistant manager at Boost Juice and at Apple. On top of working 30 hours per week, Katrina was completing her final units of her law degree and a full-time PLT work load. What’s her secret I hear you ask…time management! From her demanding schedule, Katrina realised the importance of time and the importance of managing your time effectively. Katrina says that writing down what she had to do for the week, and specific goals that she needed to achieve by the end of each day or week meant that she had a clear idea of how she needed to manage her time. Katrina also explains how satisfying it is to be able to cross these things off your to-do list once you’ve completed them, and I couldn’t agree more – writing lists and planning is how I am able to organise my time effectively too. Katrina does add that it is important to remember that we are all human and sometimes you won’t be able to tick everything off your to-do list – and that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes you will need to move it to another day or another week, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Katrina does stress though, the importance of writing it down and not wasting too much time on making it pretty – otherwise, if you spend your valuable time making a pretty planner, you could have used that time actually working through the tasks on your list!

finding a mentor

During Katrina’s PLT Placement, which is unpaid work experience that you complete during PLT if you haven’t previously had work experience in a law firm, Katrina was working at the ATO. During her Placement, Katrina found a mentor who gave her valuable advice. Katrina says that it is really helpful to find a mentor, and that person doesn’t need to necessarily identify as your mentor and you as their mentee, but that it is more important to have someone you can turn to for advice. Katrina also emphasises that it isn’t too late – don’t panic if you don’t know anyone in the legal industry while you’re at law school, Katrina found her mentor during her PLT course. It is common these days for law students to not have family members who are lawyers, Katrina and I both don’t have any family members who are lawyers, and that if you don’t have connections yet, it isn’t too late! You will have opportunities to meet lawyers during PLT and then once you are admitted.

work experience outside of law is valuable too

Katrina, like me, didn’t work at a law firm during her law degree. However, Katrina’s work experience was still very valuable to her employer. Katrina had management and team based skills that while not directly related to law, are skills that were seen as an asset by her employer. Katrina explains that in this new age of law, a lot of employers are looking for someone who can bring something different to the table – and other skills outside of law can help you stand out. Katrina says that sometimes working in the law means that you only have a certain skill set and that sometimes, experience from other areas can be beneficial to help you find a job too.

follow the recommended course outline

Some of Katrina’s law school friends didn’t follow the recommended course outline for their law degrees. This meant that they found themselves in a position where they hadn’t completed the prerequisite units needed to complete certain subjects, and their time at university was unnecessarily extended. Katrina says there is no point in moving subjects around to try and avoid doing difficult units at the same time because you’re going to have to complete those units sooner or later anyway, so you might as well get them over with! If you don’t follow the recommended course outline, you may risk extending your time at law school – and I don’t think anyone wants that!

the importance of networking

Katrina has found that the legal community in Queensland is very small and you will often meet people who know someone that you know. Katrina explains that sometimes the hardest part can be getting your foot in the door and that connections can help with that. Katrina says to remember the importance of your relationships with your peers at university and during PLT, because those people will be your colleagues and may go on to be Barristers and Judges in the future. Katrina also explains that it is important to make connections outside of law because law is tied in with almost everything in this day and age. Your connections don’t need to be based in law as long as you have people you can lean on and turn to for advice. This is why law school can sometimes send the wrong message – it can be so competitive but in reality, there is room for us all in law and it is important that we support each other. Especially when we all often end up working in different areas of the law, it can be helpful to know colleagues in different areas so you can reach out if you need or refer clients to them if you’re unable to help them.

upholding ethical standards

As a law student, Katrina explains that it is so important to do the right thing. A mistake during your law degree, such as copying someone else’s work, can haunt you and even prevent your admission as a lawyer in the future. When you apply for your admission after completing your law degree and PLT course, you have to disclose everything – from things as small as parking tickets to thing as important as academic misconduct and criminal charges. So, remember that things you do during university may have serious consequences later on. It is important that lawyers are ethical, honest and trustworthy people so that people who are coming to you with important problems can trust that you will take it seriously and do your absolute best for them.

believe in yourself!

Katrina reminds us to take criticism from other people with a grain of salt. Katrina didn’t get good grades when she undertook legal studies in Australia and her teacher told her to forget law and do something she was good at that involved maths/science. But Katrina didn’t listen to them because she wanted to pursue law – and luckily she didn’t listen because she now has an awesome job that she loves! Katrina explains that working in a male dominated area can have its challenges and it is important to gain respect by proving that you know what you are doing. Katrina says that you need to change your mindset and believe in yourself so that others will too!

katrina’s awesome tips

Law is flexible – you can minor in an area that interests you (like Finance) and you can commence PLT early if you want to bevadmitted ASAP!

Managing your time effectively by writing to-do lists and setting goals is the key to being able to balance a demanding workload!

Find a mentor who can give you valuable advice – and don’t worry if you haven’t found someone during your law degree – it isn’t too late!

Work experience outside of law isn’t a bad thing and it may give you skills that are unique and that help you stand out to prospective employers!

Follow the recommended course outline – if you don’t, you may end up unnecessarily extending your time at university and delaying your graduation!

Don’t underestimate the value of networking, and not just within law – maintain relationships with your peers as they will be your fellow colleagues and may even be a barrister or judge one day!

Don’t make a silly mistake like copying an assignment at university because it may prevent your admission as a lawyer in the future – ethical standards are really important in law!

Believe in yourself and earn respect by proving that you know what you are doing, even if you are younger than your colleagues or in an area which is dominated by males/females!

Katrina is happy for you to reach out to her on LinkedIn or by sending her an email –

Katrina’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katrina-nathan-0b33b2117/

Katrina’s Email: katrina.c.nathan@outlook.com