Law School Myths
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Perhaps you’ve heard that marks are everything at law school, or that the supposed glut of lawyers has rendered law jobs few and far between. Maybe you’ve been warned not to study law unless you intend to practice, lest you drown in HECS-debt and dull readings for a career in which you have absolutely zero interest. Hearsay waft through law school corridors, and as first years uncertain of the world that lies beyond the lecture theatre, we have no reason not to believe them.
“Only grades matter”
There’s no question that a detailed knowledge of the law is vital to practice. It also undoubtedly takes a lot of persistence to master a course. As a rule of thumb, though, remember that marks are neither representative of your intelligence nor your competence and potential as a lawyer. A number of factors influence your performance, such as your marker and even how you feel on the day of the exam. Many subjects also assess a small part of the law, the remainder of which you have the opportunity to master in practice.
In the context of job applications, Minter Ellison partner, Kristy Edser, says that work experience, teamwork skills, innovative thinking, personal values and a commitment to causes are all equally important as an academic record. These are demonstrated through leadership, mooting and skills competitions, volunteering and hackathons. Client-centric environments are especially interested in well-rounded candidates.
“Law school is cutthroat”
Closed-book exams at certain institutions, ruthless marking standards, and the prospect of studying alongside one of the smartest people in the state can create immense pressure to perform well and self-criticism when you don’t. Law school differs from high school in at least one fundamental respect: study is largely self-motivated. Unfortunately, it’s no myth that law school is tough.
The only way to survive it is to make friends. You’ll find your tribe through law society social events, competitions, subcommittees, orientation seminars and even lectures. Your friends will be your emotional crutches, proofreaders, assignment soundboards, proxy note-takers, tea-spillers and comrades throughout this gruelling law degree.
Verdict: TRUE (yet absolutely manageable)
“Clerkships are the be-all and end-all”
The notion of a clerkship may not mean much to a first year. However, students in their penultimate year place enormous emphasis on “clerkship season”, when law students all around the country apply to (mostly commercial) firms, attend networking events and endure multiple rounds of interviews to score an internship and eventually, fingers crossed, a graduate role. I understand their raging popularity. The glamour of corporate drinks and glass offices imbue commercial law with prestige. And corporate sponsorship for law camp and law ball subtly ingrain the names of these firms into our minds from our very first year of law school.
Clerkships offer valuable experience and insight into the corporate lifestyle, but it is not the be-all and end-all. There are alternate pathways into your desired firm, such as a graduate intake or lateral entry after one or two years of practice. Beyond corporate law, the critical thinking and problem solving acumen honed throughout the degree can be applied elsewhere, such as government, the courts, non-profit, social justice, NewLaw, management consulting, media and academia.
“There are too many law graduates. You won’t find a job!”
The supposed oversupply of law graduates is a myth that seems impossible to banish. The contention is the 15,000 law graduates flood the market annually when the legal profession numbers just 66,000 solicitors. Neville Carter, CEO of the College of Law, Australia and New Zealand’s largest provider of practical legal training, dismissed this as “a conclusion fuelled by myth”. In 2015, 7,650 students graduated law school, approximately 85% of them acquiring professional qualifications. Carter also argued that “many law graduates are finding gainful employment in areas beyond conventional law practice”.
It’d be difficult to prove that supply hasn’t increased at all. There are now 38 law schools in Australia, compared to 10 prior to 1990. But the glut is, at best, exaggerated. The influx of employment took some adjusting, but Carter maintains that employers “grew to accommodate them”.
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