Welcome to the inaugural issue of my monthly column* on how to get the job that you’ve always wanted. Every month we will feature insights on a particular industry, including tips on how to get your foot inside the door from Australian Filipinas who are currently working in this industry.
So, you want to be a lawyer?
The legal profession is one of the most rewarding, but also most competitive, industries in Australia. Nationally there are around 60,000 practising lawyers, with an additional 10,000 law graduates from Australian universities joining the profession every year.
What does it really mean, though, to work in the legal industry? Below are my top 5 industry insights:
- You don’t need to be a lawyer (or have a law degree) to get your foot inside the industry. Whilst it is ideal that you are able to get into the law degree at university, the legal industry covers a wide range of qualifications: legal secretaries, paralegals, legal managers, administration support, etc. There are Certificate-level qualifications available for these occupations, and they can offer you a great introduction into the industry without requiring the commitment of a full law degree. Law firms and a wide range of other businesses are always hiring for these staff. Most people do volunteer work with community legal centres or other not-for-profit advocacy organisations, which is always useful, but note that these are now scarce and highly sought after. In fact, I got my foot inside the door as a legal secretary because I completed an online Certificate in Legal Secretary, (despite months of applying for jobs on the basis of my law degree). I got offered a position as a solicitor by the same law firm two weeks after I started.
- The legal profession is a calling, not an ATM. We have all heard of famous lawyers (both in fiction and in real life) who have encyclopaedic knowledge of the most obscure legal decisions which they can quote at the drop of a hat – which then wins them the court case and makes them partners at the law firm. The reality is that this kind of expertise does not happen overnight (not even after five years of law school). And the concept of the $100,000 starting salary is not the norm – law graduates currently earn $50-55,000. And you will work the hours for it, which means that you must, really must, love the profession and the industry, because as they say, the law is a jealous mistress. Draw on the great work ethic that Filipinas possess and face each challenge as an opportunity to grow.
- Find a niche area and know everything about it. Just like doctors, lawyers tend to specialise in a particular area. In order to stand out from the crowd and to fast-track your career, find a particular area that you’re interested in, then invest in becoming an expert in that industry. For example, I specialise in contracts law; more specifically, I specialise in the contracts that support the outsourcing of government services. This means that I am a member of dedicated professional associations, I subscribe to industry magazines and newsletters to keep up with new trends, and I spend a lot of time understanding my customers (government departments) – which means I read what publications they release, I attend conferences that they attend, and I keep an eye out for new developments overseas as they may influence the direction and approach that my customers will take.
- Multi-skill yourself. Nowadays, everyone – employers and the rest of us – are looking for valued added services. A lawyer who also happens to be good at excel is going to have a far stronger chance at landing a job than lawyer who is “just law”. Look for practical skills that are in demand in each workplace, preferably those skills which lawyers are ordinarily not expected to possess! As mentioned earlier, my skills as a legal secretary (including a high words per minute typing skill) served an urgent need that my employer was looking for, and two weeks later it turned out that they needed a solicitor. Other skills that come in handy include: bookkeeping / MYOB skills, Microsoft excel or database skills, and anything IT or digital. Remember though that these must be supported by formal qualifications (e.g. Certificate II in Bookkeeping) as law firms will require these documentations.
The law offers a rewarding career and it is a privilege to be a member of this esteemed profession.
This column was proudly brought to you by Sarina Russo Job Access. Columnist Leila Galang currently works as an in-house lawyer for the company, which is the largest Australian-owned employment and apprenticeship provider in Australia with over 100 offices in Qld, Victoria and NSW (Auburn, Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith, Mt Druitt, Richmond, St Marys and Katoomba).
Got a career question? Contact her on Leila.firstname.lastname@example.org.