About half way through my law degree, I moved states with my family. After they bought a home from a deceased estate (which had been empty for something like 3 years), and my mother starting cleaning pretty much every surface you could see in the home. I thought, mmmmm, probably best I get this law career started.
According to the Australian Financial Review, in 2015, there was around 15,000 law graduates in Australia. And the work force only comprises around 66,000 solicitors. In basic terms, there just isn’t enough jobs for the amount of graduates.
That’s why everything you do from the moment you start studying law is important – that is, if you want a law career.
Whilst I was fortunate enough to fall into a firm that I love, with a very supportive crew. I realise this isn’t always the case for new graduates.
Fast forward 7 years – it’s safe to say that my law career takes up a decent chunk of my life (if not all). Now, looking back, it’s very obvious that I did three things to help me move from pace to pace.
1. Kick off your law career by saying ‘yes’
Saying ‘yes’ makes sure you are available. I look back now and realised, I rarely said no to anything. Saying yes gets you involved.
Why? Because being involved and being present gives you the most important thing in a law career: exposure. You never know who you’re going to meet and what you can learn from them.
So, take advantage of the opportunities around you, for example:
- Volunteer at a community legal centre
- Approach your local professional committee and see if you can join as a student representative
- Attend local networking functions (legal or otherwise)
- Approach firms with your resume before you graduate
And don’t be closed to being involved in things outside the law, especially if you’re from a small community. Going to a local charity event or school fundraiser will help you meet other professionals from other industries.
Gosh, I even joined a political party at one point!
Law is an area which often interacts with other professions: accountants, financial advisors, business advisors, mortgage brokers, stock brokers, real estate agents. So, getting to know people outside the law adds value when you start practicing.
Take advantage of the opportunities around you. And if there isn’t any, seek them out – they are there.
2. Find a mentor
The reality is, you’re not going to build your law career on your own. Think about it, every professional athlete has a coach. The law is a big playing field. Especially in the first five years of practice. It can be stressful, time consuming, daunting and sometimes completely frustrating. You will be blinded by all those emotions. Although it is your responsibility to keep those emotions under control, a mentor is going to help you gain perspective at the most important times.
Occasionally, you’re not going to like the advice your mentor gives you. I can’t count the amount of times my mentor has had to (metaphorically) slap some sense into me. But, without the honest conversation, it’s just not possible to see things clearly sometimes. A mentor is always going to have more experience and insight than you because, quite simply, they have been around longer. Use this to your advantage.
A mentor is going to give you some tough love, and trust me, there are going to be times where you will need it.
3. Push yourself
Now, this is my ‘tough love’ part! There is no room for inconsistency in a law career. You have to be committed and ready to go. There’s no room for, “that’s not my job” or “sorry, I wasn’t employed for that”. Scrap that behaviour.
You have to push yourself to do all the things you might feel uncomfortable doing. It’s the only way you’re going to grow as a professional and as a practitioner.
If a law career isn’t for you, then that’s ok. However, if it is, your big successful career isn’t going to come overnight. It’s going to come from hard work and consistency.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember:
- There are going to be times you’ll make mistakes, and you will probably be rolled over the coals (don’t worry, we all have at some point). Take it on the chin, and keep going.
- Have the hard conversations with your employer – pay, time off, extra tuition; whatever it may be. If you don’t ask, you don’t know. And if you get into a habit of not asking, you’re going to continue to run into the same issues no matter where you work.
- Be consistent – actions speak louder than words. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
At the end of the day, there aren’t any short cuts in a law career. The hard work at the beginning is the steep wall at the gym you look at and think ‘well, how the hell am I going to climb that’. But you just do, one step at a time, and then, you’ve done the steepest part of the climb, and the rest is a free run.