Legal Interest

Why A Law Degree Doesn’t Make A Lawyer

Peta Miller
Mar 4, 2015
min read
Law graduates

So you’ve graduated law school, degree in hand and you’re ready to go out into the big, bad world and practice what you preach. Armed with knowledge of Donoghue vs Stevenson and a well-developed caffeine addiction you apply for all those top tier firms hoping to at least make it to the elusive Interview stage.

Unfortunately, with 12,000 new lawyers graduating from Australian Universities every year,  and only 60, 000 practicing solicitors in the country, recent graduates can no longer be absorbed into the profession like they once were. So while you may have grand ideas of being the next Harvey Specter, it may not be a reality in today’s job market.

As Carolyn Evans, Dean of Melbourne University's Law School explains, "there is structural change in the legal profession and uncertainty in the Australian economy, students can't assume because they have a law degree, they'll have a job as a lawyer." 

After graduating University, this dose of reality is an icy welcome into the “real world” people have been telling you about. It’s not all doom and gloom however, while many graduates may not ever practice law, it doesn’t make their degrees obsolete. Australian Law School’s often have a myopic approach to teaching and very few students are ever enlightened to alternative career paths.

Australian Universities are forgetting the most important lesson

Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, these are the subjects any graduate will remember as the foundation to their law degree. One thing is left out of the curriculum however, and that is the reassuring and inspiring fact that a law degree provides students with a broad range of skills that are sought after in a variety of professions.

As Geoff Bowyer, president of the Law Institute of Victoria says, “Law degrees are seen in corporate and government as a good base for making good administrative people.”
Being able to understand regulation and policy is a desirable skill that is highly sought after.  Universities need to begin to make students aware to this fact and generalise their teachings. This way students can plan for realistic and achievable careers outside of the law profession.

Law degrees are seen in corporate and government as a good base for making good administrative people.

So, a Law Degree doesn’t make a Lawyer

But it sure provides graduates with the skills, knowledge and problem solving ability that makes an extremely desirable employee, especially in industries such as banking and finance. That’s the trap many graduates find themselves falling into. A narrow-minded approach means many students do not imagine their future as anything but a lawyer.

This not only limits their job prospects, denies them of finding their true passion but is an unrealistic goal in today's saturated job market. Other professions that welcome law degrees include:

  • Conflict resolutionist
  • Government worker
  • Policy writer
  • Social advocate
  • Entrepreneur
  • Journalist/writer

But what if you really want to practice Law?

The reality is, it’s going to be really hard to get a job as a graduate lawyer if you are not one of the top students in your class. Not to say it can’t be done, it can, it’s just those students with the 6.5 GPA’s in the Student Union, who also volunteer at the local Nursing home on the weekend with a part time job as a Paralegal are probably going to get the first interviews.

However, if the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has never faltered, here are our top tips to secure an interview after Graduation.

  • Network like crazy with your classmates while you’re all still sitting together in lectures. Linkedin, Facebook and the Internet in general has allowed students to create professional relationships easier than ever. Don’t take for granted how impressive an established Linkedin profile with recommendations and endorsements looks to a future employer.
  • If you haven’t been gaining work experience or internships throughout your degree, you may have to settle for some unpaid work to get your foot in the door. Look online through websites such as Seek, but also don’t hesitate to formally contact firms via email offering your time. Experience is the single most important thing when applying for a job as a recent graduate.

The statistics do not paint a nice picture for those with a desire to practice law, however if you are passionate about pursuing this career then there is nothing to stop you. Make sure you have every box ticked both academically and professionally to give yourself the best chance of securing an interview at your desired firm. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance.

For those graduates who don’t know exactly what they want to do, keep an open mind. A law degree is a valuable asset to have in any profession, focus on finding your passion and a career path will follow.

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