The hopeful youths sip their free ($40 entry fee) glasses of Chandon; most of them are wearing ill-fitting borrowed suits. Most are in their penultimate year, hoping to meet someone that thinks they’ve got the ingredients to work at their firm.
Others are far too early in their degree to even considering attending a networking evening, but it’s quite ‘cute’ (for lack of a more meaningful word) how inquisitive and confused these law students are.
In my badly fitting corporate wear, and with a million questions buzzing around my mind, I enter Old Government house at Queensland’s University of Technology campus and hope with all of my might that I am interesting enough to hold a conversation with a legal professional for at least ten minutes.
The general jist of my thoughts is the million dollar question – will my mediocre GPA get me a job at somewhere established enough to have a decently working coffee machine or better yet – someone to fetch me my coffee? The people who can most adequately answer this question are the more recent graduates. Some of them finished with straight 7s and others struggled to reach 5s, but nonetheless the same answer is always: “the firm looks at a combination of things to decide whether you fit their culture.”
The majority of lawyers at the event said the same concoction led to a graduate job: academic results, a mixture of hobbies, humanitarian work and evidence of work experience or at least an attempt to experience how the legal profession works. I know what you’re all thinking – or at least what I was thinking – greeeaaaaaaat, now I have to find time to visit soup kitchens, call up every law firm in my local area and take up a team sport… all on top of my time-consuming law degree! As horrific as it all sounds, the key to proving yourself to a prospective employer is to assure them that you can balance life’s activities and retain some degree of saneness. Any form of work experience is good proof that you’re dedicated enough to law to truly ‘care’ about becoming a decent lawyer.
One lawyer I met said that in her student days she would sit at home, pick up the phone book and dial every firm possible. She was lucky enough after several attempts to gain an administrative position at the firm and I admired her perseverance.
Perseverance is a word that can also flow into the area of the dreaded ‘clerkship’. Don’t be choosy: apply for every clerkship possible. But, what if no one accepts me for a clerkship position? Don’t sweat it, the majority of lawyers I met at the networking evening had incredible careers and never even considered applying for a clerkship… but it is a sure fire way to get your foot in the door at your preferred workplace.
Towards the end of the evening a few eyes had been glazed over, which I assume was a side effect of the amount of alcohol some of the students had relied upon for courage (but hey, some lawyers had their fair share, too), and it was time to finish up. In a last rush to meet a potential employer I saw one of my friends jog across the room to meet the only criminal lawyer who attended the evening (bummer) and a few others rush to the beverage table to swing back that last glass of wine.
With a load of business cards in my pocket and a lot of confusion about the legal profession, I left with a multitude of things on my mental to-do list:
Get the phonebook out and call as many firms as you can – you have nothing to lose. If you get rejected, call another firm.
Be willing to make coffees or partake in work experience – you won’t get your dream job straight away, but gain as much legal work experience as you can.
Apply for a clerkship – If you’re in Queensland, the majority of applications close VERY soon, so create the perfect application and get sending. Many firms accept applications via CVMail.
Write a cover letter that sums up ‘you’, not your past careers. Most firms said they judged someone’s application solely on how they presented themselves in their cover letter.
Ask lawyers questions – they are an extremely valuable resource to us law students and if you are too afraid to ask them questions in person, shoot them a phone call or an email and if they’re not too busy they will always try to help with your query.
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