My advice for Law graduates
Dear Law Graduate, It’s no secret to you that you are not alone.
In fact, recent reports indicate that you are one of 12,000 Australian students graduating with a law degree this year. It’s a scary thought in the post-GFC world, with many firms merging, downsizing and jobs seemingly harder than ever to come by. How are we going to find work for our graduates?
This isn’t just happening in Australia. In the UK one law school now offers a refund for graduates who are unable to find employment within nine months,* with the Brooklyn Law School also offering a 15% refund to unemployed grads.
For anyone, graduating and entering the “real world” can be intimidating. Gone is the flexibility of University, and the realities of the corporate grind hit home. Feeling stressed? Again, you're not alone.
Challenges and opportunity?
For law graduates, in addition to a huge oversupply, there's also another elephant in the room. Technology. The legal industry is ripe for disruption, and many of the first jobs to go fall squarely in a graduate's domain, like discovery, research and preparing documents.
It’s interesting how the legal profession has reacted to technology. In a profession steeped in tradition, it’s fair to say that a large percentage of the profession is stuck in the past. While some of our seniors still grapple with the whole “cloud” thing (I remember a colleague having to explain to a partner that you can’t actually see the cloud…), all of a sudden people are talking about how technology is yet another threat to your future employment.
With the billable hour still the key measurable in most law firms, optimisation opportunities are being found in offshore offices (particularly where “synergies” can be found, often known as cheap labour).
While graduates of the future may look forward to the day when computers can do discovery, there’s no doubt that technological advances are catching up with the law.
And when technology can guarantee the requisite security of confidential documents, combined with search and data analysis power, there’s no doubt that clients will want to look at more cost effective solutions to a graduate spending weeks on end in a dark closet reviewing documents.
In addition, there are a number of boutique firms and industry leaders disrupting the legal industry. In a move away from big law, these firms are often run by ex-Partners and Senior Associates who want to do things better. Unfortunately for future graduates, these firms are run using more lean and agile thinking, and therefore requiring less graduates.
So where does this leave you?
I don’t think that anyone will pull the wool over your eyes: it’s going to be tough.
There are a lot of challenges for the legal industry ahead, and you will be riding the storm. Over the last few years, the industry has seen a huge amount of change, and you could bet your degree on the fact that this period isn’t over.
You have the power to take the legal industry forward. Don’t perpetuate the “I did it tough so you should do it tough too” mentality that plagues so many senior lawyers. As technologically savvy young lawyers or lawyers to be, you have the power to make positive changes in the industry.
Ready to get stuck into this new world?
Here’s some advice for creating your mark in the industry:
- Don’t lose track of your personal values and moral compass. Or, in fewer words, don’t be a dick. There, I said it. Don’t forget it. You will have to live with your choices long after a particular deal or case is over. Get stuck into your work and support your colleagues. With technology becoming more sophisticated, the last thing you want is for your colleagues to prefer working with a computer over you.
- Embrace people from all walks of life. One of the saddest things about lots of junior lawyers is that once they start work, they are increasingly isolated from the outside world. This is particularly the case in firms that demand long hours from their junior lawyers. As you progress, you will be a better lawyer if you are grounded in your community and what's happening around you, online and offline. Trust me, you never know where your career will take you, so don't burn bridges or close doors.
- Don’t stop learning. You are going to have to be more commercial. More savvy. So think about ways you can use technology to learn new skills, and how you can use social media to network and strengthen connections. Publish your thoughts on platforms like LinkedIn. Start building your expertise in an area that interests you: whether it is an area of the law, or leadership, business, whatever! Your expertise and profile will help you stand out from the crowd, and you will demonstrate that you are willing to learn and go above and beyond.
- Don’t wait until you are promoted to be a leader. Always look for new challenges and ways that you can be an intrapreneur. As a member of a tech savvy generation, you have a lot of skills that your supervisors might not have. Think about ways that you can “reverse mentor”, or implement systems that improve the workforce. Even if you start by optimising aspects of your own work day, this proactivity won’t go unnoticed. And if it does, then start thinking about new opportunities in the profession where your skills will be embraced. Innovative law practices and corporate practices are popping up everywhere, and by innovating yourself, you are placing yourself in good stead to get a job where your skills are appreciated.
- Finally, remember that you are more than your degree. It sounds so simple, but when you are caught up in this new world, don't lose track of who you are, and why you got into the law in the first place.
Now, go forth and conquer!
Are you a recent graduate or junior lawyer? What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion on this, so leave a comment below and share your experiences.
*Perhaps unsurprisingly, this University reports that 98% of its graduates are employed in this period. It would be interesting to see stats on graduates from Australian law schools and how they compare.