When you’re at uni your practical experience seems like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me you’ll find that it sneaks up on you. Whether you’re in a last minute panic like me, or you’re planning ahead, here are a few tips and resources for finding that perfect placement.
1. Do you want to get paid?
This is a more important question than you’d think. If you’re in NSW and have no prior experience working in the law then you’re generally looking at a total of about 15 or 16 weeks full time work, depending on where you’re completing your studies.
15 or 16 weeks? That’s like 4 months!
The tricky thing for baby lawyers is that most law firms know it is compulsory for us to do this placement before we can be admitted. So a huge number of law firms only take on practical placement students on an unpaid work experience basis.
The problem is that while many law firms remember that practical placements are compulsory, they have forgotten what it is like to be a uni student with bills and rent to pay (not to mention a lifestyle to maintain). Unless you’ve been saving for just this scenario, or you’re living at home with some patient and generous parents, you’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell of being able to live without pay for 4 months. A large number of people who have been working full time for several years could not afford to do this, so our chances of making it through with sanity in tact are pretty slim.
If you’ve already had experience working in a legal environment my recommendation would be to try and get that recognised. If it is recognised then the length of time you need to spend on prac can be reduced by as much as half. While you may not be able to go without 4 months pay, 2 months could be far more bearable.
If you’re willing to go without pay, then you’ll find a placement tomorrow. But if you want to get paid you have to allow a lot of extra time.
2. Where can I find a placement?
Check the jobs board at uni. Even better, your uni careers service may even have practical experience ads posted online. In my experience most of these positions are unpaid.
The College of Law website has a page dedicated to practical placements. Again, many of these positions are voluntary, but if you want to be paid my recommendation would be to focus on those ads which offer employment once your practical experience has been completed. They’re more likely to pay you during your placement, and if they don’t then you at least have a paying job waiting for you when prac is over.
If you have decided to do your practical experience on an unpaid basis, why not make it count? Many Community Legal Centres across the country offer practical placements to completing law students. There are legal centres for special interests (such as environmental law) and specific clients (immigrants, indigenous persons, young people, women, etc). Working in a CLC is a great way to give back and the experience is typically very hands on. Check out the national directory of CLCs.
The next place to look is online job sites such as SEEK and My Career. Practical placement ads are not as easily found on these pages but they are likely to be paying positions. If the ads don’t make reference to PLT, College of Law or practical experience, look for references to a requirement for a final year law student.
If all else fails ask yourself the question who do I know? You can undertake your prac in a whole range of legal situations: in a law firm, with a barrister, working for a judge, working in house. Chances are you know someone who knows someone. Don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t be too demanding either. Depending on how good the connection is you may or may not be paid.
3. Is this the right place?
In the desperate hunt for any legal working environment that will have you, don’t forget to check that they’re actually eligible to supervise you. Start planning by reading the placement requirements. For example, your supervisor may have to have a certain level of practicing certificate. It always pays to ask this in the interview, rather than find out later.
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