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Finding Work Experience as a Later Lawyer

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I hate the term ‘later lawyer’. It just doesn’t sit well with me at all. It makes me feel older than I actually am – I’m only in my late mid twenties! But for better or worse, it’s the term that’s used to describe those like me who came to the law in a really roundabout way.

Following my first stint at uni, I worked in community services and local government for almost 10 years. Starting my JD, I thought it would be an absolute breeze – I mean, during my undergrad course I was able to do the readings on the bus on the way to tutorials. Oh how wrong I was. Either way, I’ve now finished the JD and have a shiny law degree with my name on it.

The law degree was the easy part. Making myself stand out in clerkship applications was a lot harder than I was anticipating. Perhaps a little naively, I thought, “I’ve got this full resume and two degrees. This will be super easy!” It wasn’t as easy as I thought.

First of all I had no legal work experience. A lot of the other students who were applying had done work experience during their uni holidays. I’ve got a full time job, which means I didn’t have that opportunity. If you’re a later lawyer in the making, see if you can get some volunteering experience at your local Community Legal Centre night clinic or something similar. If you’re a would-be later lawyer getting some experience earl on is important. Essentially your career starts as soon as you begin law school.

Another thing that I encountered when applying for clerkships was that offer and acceptance dates were really close together, which means that annual leave from the aforementioned day job for a clerkship has to be organised in a short amount of time. Luckily my employer is really flexible, but if you’re in a similar position, it’s worth trying to plan this with your employer as early as you can.

Firms usually publish their clerkship dates well in advance, so if you’re considering applying, you should note all these dates in your diary as soon as they’re released.

I’ve heard anecdotes that recruiters may have a bias towards younger graduates. I haven’t experienced that myself but some other students with me at law school certainly felt that was the case. I can’t vouch for that at all, but if you’re worried it’s worth picking up the phone and having a chat with the HR reps at the firms you’re interested in. No, really! They’re all very lovely and really keen to have a chat with you about the application process. Every single one of the people I spoke to was happy to give me dos and don’ts for my application. Plus doing this may also help them to remember your name when all those applications hit their desk.

If you’re thinking about internships, clerkships and graduate jobs, remember that law firms aren’t the only legal employers. Banks, telecommunications and mining companies, even government departments, universities and not for profit organisations may need your legal knowledge and research skills, so have an open mind and keep an eye out for other opportunities.

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