Law Grad FAQ
Stepping foot into the legal world can be daunting. From years of being buried in law textbooks, you are finally getting a chance to apply everything that you have learnt from law school in a real world environment.
Being a lawyer is a special thing, and you will notice this with your eventual admission ceremony, heralding your entry into an "esteemed professional" with paramount duties to justice and the court, above all else. Unlike a banker, people will pay you by the hour, so there are no ulterior financial motives to get deals done. These factors shape lawyers as trusted advisors for their clients and you will feel the full brunt of this via the client demands, billable hours and tight deadlines you will be asked to meet.
There is certainly plenty to learn and we would encourage you to read these FAQs to get a bit of a head start in the process.
I’m at uni at the moment and am thinking of doing commercial law. Do you have any advice so I can best prepare myself now for a future in the industry?
Grades are super important given how competitive it is. You should aim to end up with 75+ WAM for the Big 6 and upper mid-tier firms to be comfortable and at least 70+ WAM for the rest. If you are at a university that is not a G08, we would aim for that 75+ mark to ensure you are competitive. Get involved as much as possible with the law society, do law competitions and try to take on positions of responsibility. Try to also find part time work in a law firm or volunteer at a community legal centre.
During your penultimate year, you should try and apply for a clerkship, as this is the easiest route to a grad role after university.
What are law firms looking for in grads?
It depends on the firm as they all have slightly different cultures. For example, we find Allens looks for people with better grades whilst Minters might place more emphasis on personalities etc. All law firms however will look for candidates with a solid WAM, relevant work experience and someone who they genuinely think can place in front of a client. Assuming you get past the initial cull based on marks / CV, a lot of it will come down to how much the interviewer likes you. So make sure you work on your interviewing skills so that you strike a good balance of being professional and being likeable.
I’m half way through university and my grades are not good – what are the necessary steps to take to improve my chances?
Try to cut any extracurriculars you can and focus on studying. If you can improve your grades drastically, you can talk to this in the interview. Try to work backwards from a 75+WAM and figure out exactly how you can achieve this with the subjects you have left. If you need to, do university part-time to make sure you are really giving yourself a chance at boosting those grades.
You can also try networking and doing more society stuff, but ultimately, for an industry as competitive as law, marks are what will get you across the line (well, the initial one before interviews at least).
Any tips for somebody who is about to do a clerkship?
This will be the most fun you will have at the firm if you choose to stay with them after you graduate university and are offered a permanent position. A lot of the clerkship is about the firm showing you how great they are and convincing you that you should stay.
As long as you are competent, they have spent the money on recruiting you and training you, and probably need you more than you think given the understaffing that goes on these days.
The firm will usually organise a lot of social activities for the clerks, and your teams will usually coddle you when it comes to work. Don’t be surprised if you don’t ever work past 6pm during your clerkship!
Our main tips would be just to rock up to work on time, show you are keen, and always put your hand up for help. In an environment where people typically want to avoid work, this is pretty refreshing to experience for the burnt out lawyers in the firm.
What type of person will do well at a law firm?
This is probably the same across the professional services industry, but we generally would say:
- Attention to detail – lawyers in particular are expected to be perfectionists as missing words can lead to disastrous outcomes
- Being organised
- Being able to work under pressure and long hours
- Being a team player
- Being humble and willing to ask questions or admit you don’t know anything
How important is it to be involved in the law society?
It’s not absolutely necessary but you really have nothing to lose in doing so, and it’s not hard to participate either. Most people want to volunteer in the careers portfolio for obvious reasons but if you have a passion for something else in the society (e.g. sports, events), we would encourage you to take that up. As long as you are able to state what exactly your roles and responsibilities were and the soft skills you gained from the experience (e.g. leadership, teamwork, communication etc), the law firms won’t care too much about the specifics.
How are arts degrees viewed in commercial law?
While having a commerce background is useful, the law firms typically do not place any additional emphasis on someone with this degree. There is a swathe of lawyers at the Big 6, as well as Partners, that do not have a commerce background.
The focus is very much on the law degree and even if you get questions about your arts degree, it will be out of interest or if you’re lucky, something they can relate to.
How important is it to be from a Go8 university?
The majority of the clerk intakes for the Big 6 will be from Go8 universities. If you are from a non-Go8 university, you will usually have to have very good marks or connections to make the cut. This doesn’t mean that Go8 university candidates will be at a disadvantage – it is just that statistically, the odds are probably not as good.
Do companies allow final year students to apply for internships?
Short answer – yes, though this may vary year to year. These are also not always widely advertised so make sure you check the firms’ websites for these opportunities.
What is the typical career progression and salary progression at Big 4 consulting?
Check our our latest Salary Guide!
Do the law firms pay bonuses?
Forget the eye-watering bonuses that investment bankers get (sometimes 100% of base). The nature of the their job allows for it. For law, don’t expect to receive anything when you are still a graduate. Once you are a junior lawyer, and you hit your billables, you might find yourself lucky enough to cop a 10-15% bonus once the pay review comes out (depending on the firm).
In other words, base pay is what you should focus on as law bonuses are not too impressive (especially after tax, super and HECs).
Would you be able to comment on how the main roles would differ from graduate through to Partner at a law firm?
- Grad – mostly grunt work, doc review, project management, can usually manage to get out at reasonable hours
- Solicitor/Associate (years 2 to 4) – more substantive drafting of documents, more involvement with clients, lead smaller matters, working longer hours and occasionally weekends
- Senior Associate (year 5 to 8) – lead and coordinate matters, lots of delegating and reviewing of work from juniors, integral role for client management Lots of responsibility
- Partner (years 8 onwards) – responsible for seeking out and winning work, coordinating teams and reviewing everyone’s work, lots of time spent on pitches, business development, firm matters. Very stressful and lots of responsibility to the firm, the client and the team.
Would you please give a rundown of what an “average day” would be like?
A typical day for a lawyer involves responding to emails from clients, getting briefed on new tasks, doing actual work your have been delegated, attending client meetings/phone calls, project management and general office admin tasks.
There isn’t really a typical day in the sense that each day consists of a different proportion of those things mentioned above.
Do you get to choose which deals and clients you want to work with?
As a graduate, you will be have the chance to work in different rotations for different Partners, each with their own unique practice and clients. You won’t get the opportunity to access every single client the firm has, but generally firms will give you 2-3 rotations during the graduate program so you get a good sense when trying to pick where you want to settle out of the teams you have worked in.
You will typically get to submit your preferences for the types of areas/teams you want to work in as a graduate. We think it’s useful to understand the type of law you want to practice and if you don’t know the differences, to ask around so you can make the an informed choice when the time comes.
Do you ever get to work internationally or interstate?
Short answer is no. Even in an international firm, internal international transfers are competitive and do not come by that often. International clients will also typically not pay for you to travel unless there are extraordinary reasons (e.g. something needs to get delivered in person and the courier is too slow).
Most of the clients that you work for will also primarily be Australian-based, and it would be rare for any of them to pay for you to visit them interstate, given everything can now be done over Zoom.
Who are the majority of your clients?
Clients are from everywhere. Depending on your firm, you might have clients ranging from ASX200 companies to high net worth individuals.
What kind of hours are you expected to work?
Your hours will vary differently depending on the type of team you settle in. Typically, transactional teams are more up and down (with late nights and weekends when the deal is “on”), and litigation teams have more consistent hours but may experience longer nights depending on the stage of the hearing. In any event, a typical day would easily have you working past 8pm on a regular day, until 11pm on a bad day, and past midnight on a really bad day.
Do many people maintain an active and healthy lifestyle where there’s time for regular exercise and eating healthy? Or are the hours just too long to be able to?
This really depends on your priorities and time management. If you’re able to sort out your life and get into a routine, and are able to eventually familiarise your team with your routine, there is definitely enough time to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The main traps are breaking the routine and just being lazy. There are of course times when you are simply unable to peel yourself away from the screen in fear of being emailed or called, but the reality is, no one will care if you are missing for 20-30 minutes (if circumstances allow it).
Is there time to find love when working in law or are you resigned to loving your job?
The hours can be hard and being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t understand this might result in many strained conversations. However, as long as both parties are aware of how intense this job can be and how time-poor lawyers generally are, there should be no issues.
Many lawyers lead normal love lives and while they can be very busy at times, they are still able to make it work.
When do people exit typically exit and why?
Basing this off a big graduate cohort, usually about 50% will have quit by 2-3 years, and by the 4th and 5th years, you’ll probably have a handful of 5 or 6 left. These are the ones that will probably go on to become senior lawyers or partners.
Most other people either go in-house, overseas for better pay or higher study or change fields completely.
Given the intense nature of the work, the long hours, and relatively poor pay, it’s not a surprise that this happens. For many, they just don’t love the work enough to stay and essentially leave because they are fed up with it all.
Do lateral hires occur in law?
Typically, lawyers from the Big 3 (HSF, KWM, Allens) will not leave to another law firm in Australia as it is recognised that they are already in the most desirable place for a young lawyer to train. When these Big 3 lawyers do leave for other opportunities, lawyers from the other Big 6 firms, or mid tiers/boutiques, will usually get recruited to replace them as lateral hire.