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Terence Loko: Using your law degree to work in-house for the government

Terence works in-house for the Commonwealth Government in Canberra. Terence moved to Canberra after being offered a place in a graduate program while he was completing PLT. Terence moved to Australia from Papua New Guinea after finishing high school to study Accounting and although Terence completed his Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, he knew that law was his calling. Terence offers some great tips for law students who may be considering a legal role in the government and provides food for thought for those students who may not have previously thought about using their law degree to work in government.

working for the commonwealth government

Terence was required to relocate from Brisbane to Canberra in order to commence his graduate role with the Commonwealth Government. This relocation was paid for by the government and because Terence lived fairly minimally and did not have family ties in Brisbane, he found it fairly straightforward. Many graduate roles with the government are located in Canberra, so if you are interested in a government role it may be worth considering the option of relocating. Terence’s in-house role in Canberra involves a variety of legal tasks – from policy, in-house legal work, legal research, statutory interpretation, freedom of information decision making drafting and the odd case note for senior management. As a graduate, Terence has been able to practice a variety of different areas of law including administrative law, constitutional law, employment law and ethics. Once Terence’s graduate program finishes, he will be employed as an ongoing employee with the government. So, if finding a secure job is important to you, then a government role may be a good option. Government jobs also offer flexibility with working locations, future opportunities, annual leave options and they often offer higher salaries for the first few years and higher superannuation compared to private practice.

if your passion lies somewhere else, it is okay to change degrees

Terence was born and raised in Papua New Guinea and after he completed high school, moved to Australia with the help of his family to commence a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. Terence didn’t go to a migration lawyer to apply for his permanent residency and instead completed the process himself. It was a complicated and expensive process but Terence successfully navigated his way through it. This process first sparked Terence’s interest in the law. Terence realised that he enjoyed the law subjects in his accounting degree much more than the actual accounting subjects, but he decided to stick it out so that he finished his accounting degree. Terence says that if you commence a degree and you find that your passion lies somewhere else, it is okay to stop and that you aren’t a failure if you don’t finish the degree that you originally started. While Terence doesn’t regret finishing his Accounting degree, as it provided him with exposure to certain areas of law, it didn’t really assist him in finding legal work.

terence’s experience at law school

Terence completed his law degree full-time as an internal student. Like me, Terence did not work in a law firm while he was a student. However, Terence did work part-time on a volunteer basis for a migration law firm for a couple of months. This experience gave Terence a greater insight into migration law and how it differs from a lot of other areas of law in that it is based solely on statute. Terence started applying for graduate roles in the government in the final semester of his law degree in 2018. When Terence was completing PLT later that year, he was advised before his placement at the ATO commenced that he had been offered a graduate position to start in February 2019. This meant that Terence’s placement at the ATO was able to give him an insight into what it would be like working in government. Terence says that if you are interested in working for the government, speak to your placement coordinator when you are undertaking PLT about finding a suitable placement. Terence explains that even if you don’t end up wanting to work in government, your supervisors can be referees on your CV.

collaborate and network with your peers at law school

Terence highlights the importance of starting to build relationships with your peers at university, because your peers will become your colleagues in the future and because the legal community in Australia is small, there is a good chance you’ll see them again in the future. Terence explains that another benefit of networking is practising teamwork and having a social life, as at law school there is a common ideology that you need to study on your own. Terence says that having a support network is what helped him get through his law degree and that having time away from law is really important.

develop a broad understanding of the law

Terence explains that it is important to not be too selective when choosing electives or to decide too early that you want to be a tax lawyer and so taxation law is the only subject that you decide to work hard in. Terence explains that many areas of law overlap and that subjects which you may have neglected at university may be needed later. So, it is important to pay attention to all of your law subjects and develop a broad understanding of different areas of the law. Terence explains that this doesn’t mean getting a 7 for every subject, but it is important to have a good grasp on each of your subjects. If you are thinking of working in the government, Terence says that Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Ethics are the subjects to pay particular attention to at university.

the importance of statutory interpretation

Terence explains that in your first year of law school you will learn about statutory interpretation – and that you may not realise at the time how important statutory interpretation is for both the rest of your law degree and in particular, if you are wanting to work for the government in the future. Like me, Terence didn’t pay too much attention to statutory interpretation at the time, but we have both come to realise just how important it is in many different areas of law. Terence explains that having a firm knowledge of statutory interpretation can be the difference between making or breaking someone’s life when interpreting legislation if you are working in the government. So – if you are a first year law student, or someone who is commencing their law degree soon – pay particular attention to statutory interpretation in your first year – you will be grateful that you did later!

get involved in extracurricular activities

Terence’s lack of experience working in law before he finished his law degree wasn’t a particular disadvantage when Terence was applying for government roles. Terence explains that if you are looking to work for the government, they will often consider the transferrable skills that you have acquired elsewhere and any involvement in extracurricular activities that you may have had. Terence was involved in the QUT Pacific Association, which is an association which provides support for pacific islander students. Through his participation in this association, Terence developed leadership, organisation and negotiation skills which were seen as an advantage to his employer. Terence also volunteered as a peer mentor to other pacific islander students. Terence explains that there are not many pacific islander law students and that those students he interacted with often believed that they needed to struggle on their own. Terence explains that many pacific islander students also face difficulty finding enough time for study because of their family and church commitments. Terence found offering support to these students and showing them that they were supported and encouraged so that they didn’t feel alone was extremely rewarding.

terence’s awesome tips

If you start your degree and find that your passion lies somewhere else – you aren’t a failure if you change degrees before you graduate!

Collaborate and build relationships with your peers at university – it has many benefits at university and also when you step into the profession!

Learn as much as you can from every law unit because it is important to develop a broad understanding of the law!

If you want to work in government then pay particular attention to Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Ethics!

Pay attention to the first year unit where you learn about statutory interpretation – it is much more important than you may realise at the time!

Don’t focus so much on your grades, make sure you are getting involved in extracurricular activities while you are at university!

Terence is happy for you to reach out to him on LinkedIn or send him an email if you have any questions –

Terence’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/terence-loko-279abb13/

Terence’s Email: terence.loko@gmail.com