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Published: 31 December 2010
Author: Peter Claven

How do I get my first job in the law? Starting a career in the legal profession.

Getting in to the legal profession hasn't been easy in recent years. A common complaint is that it's difficult for a graduate to obtain a legal traineeship (when I applied it was referred to as an articled clerkship) because of the increasing competition.

It wasn't that long ago that I had to finally make a decision about the type of career I wanted in the law, and having decided on working in an established legal practice I had to decide how best to do this.

There are a few different pathways you can follow to obtain a traineeship, but here are some tips that I found useful in getting started in my career.

Obtaining a traineeship

Getting that all-important traineeship is the key to breaking into the practice of law. A traineeship is of course on the job training, which must be completed before being admitted to legal practice.

Before you turn your mind to drafting any letter of application and resume, think about what you might put in that application and resume that is not simply a statement of your academic record. It goes without saying that academic results are important, but, contrary to what many think, they're not everything. Employers really want to know who you are.

The key questions to ask yourself are:

  • 'What does this firm stand for?'
  • 'What are its values?'

The students who really stand out are those who have tried to gain some experience of the law. A short clerkship with a legal firm, or non-paid work, such as volunteering with a community legal aid network not only gives you an insight into legal practice: it is also a clear demonstration of your enthusiasm and eagerness to work.

It also enables you to network and meet people who may be able to give you some important insights that may assist you in choosing a future career path.


You should also research firms thoroughly.

Make yourself aware of the areas of law practiced by different firms. Many of the larger firms that you look at might appear very similar. However, what generally distinguishes is the culture.

The key questions to ask yourself are: What does this firm stand for? What are its values? What would it be like to work there? How satisfying is the work? Is it the type of firm that will mentor me?

You might also consider the differences in working for a large firm or a smaller firm. City or country. Inhouse, government or private?

Getting meaningful answers also means talking to people.

Talk to lawyers and those who are working in, or have worked in and around, the legal profession. Talk to people at your university. Ask people about the firms you are interested in.

Determine what the current traineeship intake situation is with the firms that you may be interested in applying to and keep a record of important deadline dates.

So, you're invited

If a firm offers you an interview, don't knock it back. Even if a firm isn't your first choice, grab the opportunity. You may change your mind later. If not, or if you are unsuccessful, don't worry about it: you'll likely perform better at the next interview.

One final word: Even if you fail to get a firm to take you on, there are still options open to you such as applying to the Leo Cussen Institute. Down the track, you can always re-apply to work at the firm you have your eye on. Persistence counts.

Peter Claven is a Personal Injury lawyer with Stringer Clark and Ryan Carlisle Thomas.


The Law Institute of Victoria: Career Centre
ALSA: New Standards for Graduate Employers and Lawyers

Categories: Careers, Workplace