Dealing with Penultimate Year Panic
Since your first year of law school most adults/lawyers/distant family members have probably been asking you “what do you want to do with your degree?” or “what area of law do you want to work in?” For the first few years I brushed it off with responses along the lines of “I’m not sure”, “I haven’t decided yet” and “I've got plenty of time.” But once I started fourth year and went back to my hospitality job, I realised that maybe I should figure out a better answer to these questions.
My brother had used his law degree to work for the government and then as a management consultant, so I knew that there were lots of career options, but I found it quite hard to figure out what I wanted to do. Then I realised that I just had no relevant experience and therefore of course I didn't know where I wanted to work after graduation.
So here are my suggestions for what to do when you feel you have nothing much on your resume, and can’t decide whether you want to be a lawyer…
Start with getting some experience, preferably in an area where you have an interest. For example, my uni has a centre for human rights that takes on interns and research assistants. The benefit of uni-based experience is that you're not competing against graduates or other more experienced applicants, as the university is expecting students to apply for the roles.
On that note, look at your university’s job portal. I found my first law job on my university’s careers page, and spent some time working with a sole practitioner, writing wills and doing conveyancing. Though not the most riveting work, at least I now feel confident that when I need to apply for clerkships or another law job, I have some legal office experience behind me.
It’s also a good idea to spend some time just surfing the web for internships and job opportunities and seeing where your mouse takes you. I’m interested in environmental issues and climate chance so I started reading up on this area, and found a Wheeler Centre talk featuring speakers from the Environmental Justice Society, which then led me to the site of a law firm that acts for victims of environmental pollution, such as farmers. Once you know what areas you’re interested in, it’s a lot easier to sell yourself as an ideal candidate when relevant opportunities pop up.
Next tip: don't underestimate the power of mentioning that you are a law student. It may feel like you don't know any lawyers, but sometimes things pop up. For example I went to a LIVout networking evening and didn't expect anything of it, but left with a business card and the offer of some unpaid work experience in a firm. I’m positive this helped me get my first paid law job.
Finally, I think it’s important to remember that if you don’t want to work in the law, that’s okay. So don’t push yourself to get a law job if you’d rather do something different. This approach can also be applied to narrowing your career options and finding relevant experience in other industries. So start researching and ask around about internships and work experience options – you never know what opportunities will come your way!
Enjoyed this post? Sign up for the Survive Law weekly newsletter for more.