By Calvin Gnech, Criminal Lawyer and Legal Practice Director at Gnech and Associates
23 December 2020
Dear Aspiring Lawyers,
It is the end of perhaps the most challenging and bizarre year of this generation. More than a few will be looking forward to the start of a new year and the challenges and new adventures it will bring. Those making decisions and embarking on new ventures include young people aspiring to join the legal profession.
It is never too late to prepare for your entrance into the legal profession, but I do believe it is important to begin your preparation as soon as you know that is the path you want to take. While it may appear that all you need to do is obtain a place at university, finish your degree, complete Practical Legal Training (PLT) and be admitted as a lawyer, there are many other things you can do to give yourself a really practical head start towards a fantastic and fulfilling legal career.
Once admitted as a practicing lawyer, many within the profession will offer you advice and guidance. The most common words of wisdom you will hear from these very wise mentors are, “preparation, preparation, preparation”. It does not matter if it is a client interview, a court appearance or even a briefing to a law firm partner, the key to success in this profession starts and finishes with preparation. So why not start preparing for your legal career early.
As a principal of a small boutique law firm, I have had to engage in a number of recruitment processes over the last 12 months. I have to admit it has been challenging. Not because there have not been many wonderful and promising applicants but because I was called upon to make really important decisions based on a two or three page resume.
So, what do firms look for when hiring staff? Personality, reliability, trustworthiness, work experience, a high GPA or something else? Different law firms will have their own unique views on this topic, but this article will hopefully provide some valuable guidance to you aspiring lawyers that are going to be the future of our profession.
There are two initial stages of your legal career:
- Preadmission Career: Your legal career whilst studying law and you are working towards admission; and
- Postadmission Career: Your legal career once admitted, and you are attempting to obtain employment as a graduate lawyer.
At this early time, it is the first of these stages that should be considered the most important.
It can be easy for law students to fall into the trap of believing that their legal career does not begin until they are admitted. However, if you can switch your mindset, and start to think of your legal career as beginning right now, it will make a huge difference in the long run.
In fact, if you get your preadmission legal career correct, you should have little trouble finding employment as a graduate lawyer. The key is making yourself attractive to an employer with a legal focus.
Let me pose two different resumes of a person recently admitted seeking graduate lawyer employment for you to consider:
I have recently been admitted as a lawyer graduating with a GPA of 7. Since leaving school I have been a pizza delivery driver.
I have recently been admitted as a lawyer graduating with a GPA of 5. Since leaving school I worked in administration for Black Law for 12 months. I was then employed full time as a law clerk for Smith Law while I studied part-time. I have volunteered once a month for my local Community Legal Centre for the last four years and I completed a summer clerkship at Jones Law. Since leaving school I also qualified as a Justice of Peace performing that role within the community as well as utilising my qualification in my various roles working within law firms. I have three letters of recommendation from the principal lawyers of the three firms I have worked at as well as a fourth letter of recommendation from the senior lawyer from the Community Legal Centre.
As you can see there is a big difference. I must admit that I personally do not place any significant weight on GPAs, however you should still be mindful that some lawyers and speciality firms do. Having said that, applicant two would clearly be a far more attractive employee to most law firms. To be honest, applicant two is unlikely to even need to apply for a graduate lawyer position, because in all reality their current firm will have made the necessary transition arrangements to progress from law clerk to lawyer within the firm. At the very least if the firm cannot accommodate an extra lawyer within their business model, the principal will have been working the phones, talking to colleagues and other principals to try and arrange graduate employment.
The next question that I am often asked is how do I get my foot in the door and obtain initial employment with a law firm when studying. I will admit this is not always easy. Not all students have the contacts, opportunity, or ability to easily get their foot in the door. It can often be daunting to even know where to begin.
However, again, it is all about making yourself attractive to an employer. Some ideas for consideration upon graduating school and being accepted into law studies are:
- Qualify as a Justice of the Peace. It is always very helpful for law firms to have JPs within the workplace;
- Volunteer at your local Community Legal Centre;
- Write professionally and respectfully to law firms, proactively asking if there is any opportunity at the firm to gain experience as an aspiring member of the profession;
- Be prepared to take any opportunity that presents itself. For example, if you are looking for a law clerk position but there is only an administration assistant position available – take it. Once you have your foot in the door you have gained the opportunity to impress. Often a person can progress from administration assistant to law clerk to lawyer (maybe later even partner) all within the one firm across the period of their study if you impress enough;
- Be prepared to work full-time and study-part time. In the long run this may actually progress your overall career faster. If you have been working in a law firm for 2-3 years in the lead up to being admitted, you will be able to hit a ground running as a lawyer and have a far greater advantage.
Now there is a final piece to the puzzle. This should go without saying, but here it goes. An employer needs to know that you are:
- Reliable – be on time and be organised;
- Trustworthy and honest; and
- able to ‘read a room’ and then professionally and respectfully communicate in that setting, not only in the workplace with colleagues, but also with external stake holders and clients.
Mastering this third trait will make you stand out heads and shoulders above the rest.
If you follow this advice, by the time you are admitted and seeking employment as a lawyer you should find it a whole lot easier than the law student who decided to be a pizza delivery driver during university and tries to work it out after being admitted.
Good luck to you all and welcome to the profession.
Legal Practice Director
Gnech & Associates