Where will your law degree take you?

By Vera Jokic

Melbourne Law School's Career's Office is dedicated to helping students make the transition from study to work – in the legal profession and beyond.

A few years ago, the Law School launched a dedicated Careers Office, one of the first law schools in Australia to do so. This year, to bolster the services offered to students, a Faculty Adviser, Judicial Associateships, and a Faculty Adviser, Academic Careers, were appointed.

Amy Harrington is the Manager of the Careers Office, and she says the Law School is thinking ahead. "Securing a trainee position is a very competitive process. Having this office based in the Law School building, and being able to work with students to develop both their application and interview skills and their relationships with law firms, we give our students the best possible opportunity," Harrington said.

The Careers Office has two purposes: to inform students of the breadth of career options available to them and offer advice as to how they may achieve their career goals; and to develop and maintain relationships with law firms, government departments and overseas legal practices as well as other non-legal employers.

The Law School has particularly strong links with law practices in London, where, for example, 11 alumni are working at Clifford Chance, and with a variety of practices in Hong Kong. Firms from both countries regularly visit Melbourne Law School to recruit our graduates.

"We invite different kinds of law firms, international and local, to visit and speak with our students. We also engage non-practising law graduates to come and speak to students about opportunities outside of the typical legal sphere. For those students not wanting to practise in a commercial environment it can be difficult to work out what the possibilities are and how to embark on an alternative career path," Harrington said.

"So the Careers Office invites alumni and other individuals with law degrees who have used them in different ways – journalists, professionals working in finance and banking, and in government departments and non-profit organisations, rural lawyers and barristers – to really demonstrate to students where their law degree might take them.

"Certainly, we are also conscious that the Law School has undergone significant change in the last couple of years, so another important part of the Careers Office role is to keep the information flowing out to employers."

This year, first-year students have been offered a new service: professional mentoring. The Careers Office has been recruiting mentors from a variety of fields, aiming to involve students with the profession straight away, and to start developing their professional contacts.

And there is another possibility about which the Careers Office can advise students: Melbourne Law School recognises that some students are well suited to academia.

Former Deputy Dean, Professor Jenny Morgan, is in charge of advising students and graduates who would like to teach. She meets students one-on-one to discuss academic roles and opportunities, and to develop a pathway into academia.

The other key adviser in the revamped Careers Office is Professor Adrienne Stone, who looks after Judicial Associateships.

"This is a unique program to Melbourne Law School. As far as I know, we are the only Australian law school that provides students with this kind of assistance. It's important because the process of applying for a Judge's Associateship is a little bit mysterious to students. Most of the positions aren't advertised and students very often rely on word of mouth," Stone said.

"Prospective Associates often don't get the right information about how to apply and what the job is like. So my job is to make sure that we give the best guidance possible to our students."

Stone completed an Associateship herself in the High Court and says it is one of the most memorable experiences of her career.

"I spoke this week to the entering JD class. The way I put it to them was this: right at the beginning of your legal career you get the most extraordinary insight into the workings of a court.

"You work on the personal staff of a judge and you assist with all kinds of tasks that are related to the resolutions of disputes before the courts. You will not get an opportunity to gain insights like these again unless you actually become a judge.

"You are intimately involved in the workings of a court. And to do that at the beginning of your career is a hugely valuable experience whatever you go on to do," Stone said.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 1, March 2009.