Wanted: Legal career with passion. Have car. Will travel.

question feb

Q:

Dear newlawyerlanguage,

I have a question for you, maybe a few. I’m 43, just begun studying law last year with an online degree that is purely online. I chose this method of studying so I could fit study around work but I have concerns about how potential employers will view this degree (from Edith Cowan University) and I wonder about the lack of ‘real’ contact with other law students. If I look at other law school sites, they seem to be filled with super ambitious (young) students, mooting, travelling to Sydney for work experience, all primed to fit the corporate world. I’m sure, however, in the real world, there is a great variety of students with ambitions to all types of different legal work, including social justice.

Today I went to my local hardware store and the woman behind the register announced casually (yet authoritatively) after a bit of chat – ‘oh there’s no jobs in law’. I’ve heard this before – it is the ‘worst time to be a law graduate’ etc etc. But I don’t want to give it up, partly because I’m stubborn and refuse to believe that no-one would employ me, but also because I’ve discovered, after the initial shock, that I love studying law. Surely it must be worth persisting? Even if I have to move to Broome?

I guess I would love to know your thoughts on these matters.

Anon

A:

Dear Anon,

Things are certainly looking grim for the profession when the check-out woman at the local hardware store – an authority on many things I am sure, but on legal careers, I’m not so certain – announces that there are “no jobs for lawyers”.

Could have fooled me. Any time you want, log onto Seek, and you will see that in every State of Australia there are hundreds upon hundreds of jobs for lawyers.

Why is everyone panicking then? Firstly, people are panicking because there are more legal graduates each year than there are jobs to go around. They assume that every legal graduate actually wants to work in a law firm. This is simply not the case. I teach a lot in PLT and it never ceases to surprise me just how many students actually don’t intend to pursue legal careers – ever! Many have done combined degrees (e.g. law & accounting) and are happy to continue working in their other discipline, but want to qualify so that they haven’t “wasted” a degree. Others are destined for academia or social justice vocations which may or may not require you to have a practising certificate. Some study out of interest on scholarships. Others, are pursuing law as a second career but still have not made up their mind by the end that that is even what they want to do. In a nutshell, yes there are less jobs for graduates than there are graduates, but there are also many graduates who won’t be putting their hat in the ring any time soon.

The second reason everyone is panicking is because they think that this situation is new. And yet, law graduates have been complaining about lack of opportunities for many, many years now.

One of my favourite quotes is from an anonymous American lawyer who quipped, circa 1990’s, “If the current rate of increase continues, by 2000 this country will have more lawyers than people.”1

More lawyers than people. I love that! I would love to see the day when there are more lawyers than people because lawyers make more sense to me. But, I suspect I will be waiting a while. And you will also be waiting awhile if you are waiting for legal jobs to disappear. It just won’t happen.

What will happen though is the nature of legal services will change. A lot more services will be provided on-line. More and more people will go out into firms of their own – rather than working in mega law firms. Service delivery will look very different to how it looks now. There are advances in technology daily. This is nothing new. Law is (inter alia) an enterprising industry and it will change to keep pace with the needs of the modern day consumer. It’s hard to speculate ultimately how it will all look but I am pretty confident that it won’t result in grand-scale unemployment for lawyers by any means.

The first part of your question really relates to whether or not you will be competitive in the employment market even though you have studied a purely on-line degree. My answer to that is that some workplaces might be influenced by this. But most won’t. In legal recruitment, employers are really looking for raw talent, drive, the capacity to deliver, the capacity to work well within teams (probably the most important quality) and – dare I say it – a passion for the job. Which is the perfect segue to my next point –

If I can make one suggestion to you – and one suggestion only – it is this: you have found something you really love doing. Stick with it! That puts you streets ahead of most of the world’s population who work to survive only. Think about it. You LOVE this! It’s unthinkable that you would give up on it at this early stage. And yes, that may actually mean moving to Broome. The good residents of Broome deserve good lawyers too don’t they?

We need people in this profession who are here because they want to be. Because it is their passion. We need lawyers like you so, for god’s sake, don’t desert us now.

Arna Delle-Vergini

 

1 Taken from Marc Galanter, “More Lawyers than People: The Global Multiplication of Legal Professionals” in Scott L. Cummings (ed.), The Paradox of Professionalism: Lawyers and the Possibility of Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2011).