Landing your first law job

You may or may not know that a couple of months ago I got my first job in law. Unlike some students, I didn’t work in a law firm during my degree as I had jobs in Optometry because that was what I was qualified and experienced in. However, even if you have worked in a law firm – sometimes landing your first job once you’ve graduated or been admitted can be tough. I am by no means an expert, but I thought I’d share a little bit about what helped me land my first job and what I have observed and learned so far.

do something to stand out

I knew that my lack of experience working in a law firm might hinder my prospects of finding an employer who saw me as an asset and not someone who would need an immense amount of time and energy. I knew I wanted to do something to stand out from others and differentiate myself, as well as demonstrate that I had initiative. I have always found it unusual that we type up resumés and are advised to not include a picture or our date of birth. However, if we do get an interview – what we look like, our age and how we present will soon become obvious. So, I decided that in order to stand out and to try and connect with the right employer, that I would do what I call a video resumé. I wanted to find an employer who felt that the kind of person I presented as and that the skills and experience I possessed would be a good fit with what they were looking for. A video resumé may not be for you, and that is fine – but try and think of something you can do to stand out from everyone else and to connect with a prospective employer.

how I made a video resumé

I dressed professionally but comfortably, set up my iPhone on a small stand, put a chair in my kitchen in front of a piece of art on my wall and started recording. Prior to recording, I wrote down a rough script of what I wanted to say – which was essentially my work experience, the skills I had to offer and what I was looking for. It took me a couple of takes as I was a little nervous. While the recording continued the whole time, I used iMovie (an Apple app) to edit the video, cutting out the bits where I may have stopped or stuffed up. It was really easy to do – I have no video editing experience at all. I then uploaded the video to YouTube as unlisted which means that only people I share the link with could view it (that is just my personal preference). Then I shared the link on my LinkedIn profile (you can add a link directly in your ‘About’ section on LinkedIn). I also shared it on social media and added the link in my cover letter and to the contact details part of my resumé.

apply for everything

I then began applying for jobs. What you may notice when you do start to job search is that there are not many jobs for newly admitted lawyers – most advertisements want at least 1-3 years PAE (Post Admission Experience). So, my advice is – apply anyway! If you feel you would be a good fit, are a fast learner and have something to offer, then there is nothing to lose. The job I have now was advertised as 1-3 years PAE and initially a more experienced lawyer was going to be put in my place. However, I commenced a trial and my employer was impressed with my skills and abilities and they offered me the more experienced position. While I was only looking for work for a few weeks prior to being offered an interview for the role I have now, I received my fair share of rejection emails. I initially really wanted a Government job because they pay significantly more than most private law firms. However, I found it really hard to get my foot in the door. I still wouldn’t discourage anyone from applying, as you have nothing to lose anyway. I am also a big believer in things happening for a reason, and I think I have landed where I am because it is where I am meant to be. I work in a small team but I have an excellent mentor who is very experienced. I don’t dread going to work and while it can be stressful at times, I really enjoy it. And I believe a huge part of that is because of the firm I work for and the team that I am a part of.

accept that you have a lot to learn

I spent 5.5 years getting my degree. Then another 6 months doing my PLT full-time. I felt like I had spent forever working towards my goal of becoming a lawyer. I worked really hard and got good grades. But when I started work in a firm, I almost felt as though I knew nothing. We are taught such a broad range of areas of the law and even if you chose electives for your speciality like I did, when you are in practice you realise you still have so much to learn. While I do think Universities could do more to better prepare us for the practicalities of working in law, rather than so much theory, I think it is important to acknowledge that we all start somewhere and sometimes being thrown in the deep end and working things out as you go – or by making errors, is how we learn. I am very lucky to have colleagues who are happy to check my work, share their knowledge and who don’t make me feel stupid for asking questions. While I have heard many horror stories, I think it is important for students to know that good employers are out there – ones who are happy to teach and support you as you blossom into amazing lawyers. It is easy, especially because most of us who are attracted to law have similar personality traits, to beat ourselves up when we don’t know things or when we get things wrong – but we must remember that our mentors, bosses and experienced colleagues were all once where we are now and that with persistence, hard work and time we too will become skilled practitioners.

reach out to your network

I was offered a couple of interviews prior to landing my role as a result of reaching out to lawyers that I knew and communities I was a part of. While the roles weren’t suitable, I was given opportunities as a result of the effort I had put into networking and because of the initiative I had shown in having my own website and podcast. Not all jobs are advertised, a lot of people like to reach out to their colleagues and ask if they know of anyone. This is why it can be important to establish relationships with lawyers, as well as the benefit of being able to ask their advice or have them check over your resumé.

accept that it is your first job

It can be difficult to accept that after what might feel like an eternity and a big HECS debt, you have to take a job paying less than you had hoped or accept a role that isn’t what you dreamed of. But, as one of my favourite quotes says – “Your career in law is a marathon, not a sprint”. You don’t need to land your dream job straight away, and most of the time that doesn’t happen. You just need to get your foot in the door, learn as much as possible, grow, develop your skills as a lawyer, network and in time you will get where you want to be. If you are passionate about law, then you’re likely to spend 40-50 years working in it, so why the rush!? We all want success but it doesn’t come overnight, it takes persistence and it takes time – much like obtaining our law degrees. So, I think it is important to evaluate whether your expectations are realistic when you are looking for your first law job.

make an effort to keep learning

Once you know the area of law that you are passionate about, I think it is really important to keep learning outside of work. Access any tools that your employer may have to offer – podcasts, online e-books, databases, newsletters, etc. You may feel like you’ve already learnt so much during law school, but the truth is that once you have your speciality – there is an ocean full of things still to learn. As well as the fact that there are always new cases which interpret and apply the law in new and different ways – and those precedents may affect the advice that you give your clients, so if you want to be a good lawyer – you have to make an effort to keep learning. The requirement to earn CPD points once you have a practising certificate also means you are required to keep learning, but as new lawyers – I think we should all want to keep learning so that we can be the best lawyers possible for our clients.

If you have any questions for me after reading this – please feel free to reach out, I am more than happy to help if I can.

Best of luck to all of you returning to study in 2020 and to anyone who has graduated and is undertaking the notorious job search!