Advice for Graduate Lawyers - trouble finding a role?
As specialist legal recruitment consultants we get a lot of calls from recently graduated or admitted lawyers, sometimes applying to us for roles but also looking for general advice on how to make the move into the industry. Unfortunately, as there are so many graduates on the market and as most law firms do their graduate recruiting directly, we aren't able to assist graduates ourselves to find a role. However, we do have some advice for graduate lawyers seeking their first role. Follow this advice and invest the time in your search and we're sure you will succeed.
So first up, the bad news... You are starting from scratch. For example, if you had a career pre-law you will probably still be earning the same as other graduates when you start, not more. Also, legal recruiters can't help you. Firms don't pay us to find graduates. There too many looking and they can find them easily from their floated resumes or clerkships. Advertisements don't provide an easy path into a firm either. Firms often don't advertise for graduate roles, because they hire via their clerkships and traineeships, and advertisements for junior lawyers actually mean they want someone who has a year or two of post-admission experience. While you should always apply to a law firm direct for a junior role there isn't much point applying to a legal recruitment agency – if an agency can assist graduates it will say it very clearly in the ad!
So, in this competitive arena, how do you make your application stand out above the rest?
If you are still studying, it's important (if inconvenient) to recognise that, uni is important. What you study, and how well you do, will matter for your first job. If you are academically inclined that's great news; if not, then at the very least, don't fail a law subject. Try to avoid withdrawing from a subject and never fail a subject twice. If you are missing lectures and aren't committed, take a year off or more until you are committed. You only get one chance to get good grades. If you have a lot of fails in law then you will have to wear this for the rest of your career. As a general rule, the larger or more prestigious the firm, the more weight they will give to academics, and the leading firms give a lot of weight to academics.
Even better than not failing - get good grades. Study hard or if not hard then smart. Nothing wrong with picking electives that give easy grades or which have fewer contact hours. Make sure a lot of the subjects you do are in your area of interest but feel free to throw in a few that can lighten your load. Have smart friends at uni. Smart friends will assist your GPA and give you tips along the way. Beyond that, think about the institution. If you are at a lower ranked university and can move to a higher ranked institution do it, change universities. Firms take this into account.
Secondly, make an effort get some practical experience in the area/s of interest you have. As much as you can. Actually, more than you were thinking - double it and then a bit more. Do it paid or unpaid and do it well. It will pay off, massively. Not doing it will not pay off. Massively. Try to get clerkships especially, and as many as you can. If you haven't done a clerkship it's harder to get articles, and if you don't start with articles then the larger and more prestigious firms will be much less likely to hire you. (They don't need to as they have lawyers who did clerkships/traineeships already ahead of you in the queue.) If you can't get a job in a law firm do an Associateship, however, unless you want to be a barrister don't choose an Associateship over a law firm. Employers will often presume that lawyers who do Associateships want to be barristers. If you get offered articles/traineeship and it's in your area of interest take them. Don't do a professional practice course instead of them, even if the articles offered are in a small firm.
Thirdly, understanding how the market works and your position in it will assist you to target your likely audience successfully. If you have honours academics from a top law school, have some pre-admission experience and are applying for articles/training contract or clerkships with leading firms then that's great. However, given how competitive the market is you may need to go further – apply also to mid-sized firms and boutiques that practice in your areas of interest. If the market is not booming then also go a bit further than that! If you don't have fantastic academics then while you could still target the large firms, you should definitely target small and medium sized firms as well. If your academics are poor then keep going down the list! The worst case scenario we hear of is where graduates underestimate the competition in the market and only apply to firms who don't interview them.
Then, once you have the academic and practical aspects under control, and know your marketability, you have to do some more work. Unless you are one of the lucky ones who have an offer of articles or a graduate role, expect to work hard at getting a job. If the market is booming and you have great grades then all well and good, but when it isn't, or if you don't, then tackle it like it is a full time job.
For your CV, start by having a look at the link here for advice on preparing a CV. Broad content is good content, so make sure you have a life (which has many other benefits besides CV filling). Do extra-curricular activities, join law groups, take on leadership or other roles in those groups, write an article, and go beyond just turning up. Have a leadership role outside of law if you can. Play sport if it's your thing or do something else that is your thing and make sure you put it on your CV.
To the question of where to send your CV, the answer is: almost everywhere. Get a list of the law firms in your state or wherever you will work, from the relevant law society or via this link from CV mail. Apply to all of them. Don't be surprised or daunted at the number of applications you may need to send out: I sent out 50, before I got my first interview. Apply for articles and traineeships: if you are in a state that doesn't offer articles/traineeships apply in one that does!
You may also need to supplement this process by checking for specific openings or connections and generally keeping your eyes peeled. Avenues for getting work include:
d.Law Society Websites
g.Friends of friends
h.People you meet on the street …
Speak to lawyers you know and ask them about their experiences and interests. Get to know what being a lawyer is all about. If you have graduated and are still looking for work then consider calling up every lawyer you know and asking if you can come in to meet them for 15 minutes to pick their brains about how to look for work, what they did and to keep an ear to the ground for you. Ask them if they know of any jobs. Ask them if they could call the people hiring for those jobs for you. Ask them if you can do work experience with them. That counts as an interview in my book. All it takes is for one of those lawyers to hire you, recommend you, point out a vacancy to you or give you a tip and you will be on the way to a job.
Finally, when you get an interview, prepare for it well. See link for advice on preparing for interview. Avoid asking questions about what you can get out of the role and focus on telling them what you hope to do for them in the role.
With the right attitude, a broad and active approach, a honed CV, a growing pool of experience and an understanding of the job market you will succeed – it may take a while and it may take more than just applying to jobs you see on the internet, but you will get there!