Legal Graduates Looking for Work in the Wrong Places

An overcrowded legal market along with the sweeping transition away from traditional Big Law is throwing hurdles in the path of legal graduates trying to get a foot into the profession, but the Dean of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) says the jobs are still there, but where graduates need to look has changed.

The changing nature of Australian law firms is prompting universities to encourage legal graduates to pursue non-legal roles because graduate opportunities are narrowing in some areas, while widening in others.

“There's a lot of doom and gloom, but I think that there are still lots of jobs out there. What's happening is that the jobs are moving around. “It’s not as if the world is completely changed and there’s no need for lawyers, they're just going to be working in different places doing different things. We see it as being an issue about connecting up the students with the job opportunities that are around – it’s about redirecting the students and informing them about changes in the job market,” said David Dixon, Dean of UNSW.

Mr Dixon believes it is now more important than ever before for law graduates to demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to take on different roles in order to be successful in today’s business environment.

“A very consistent thing that I hear from employers is that the people who suffered are the ones who've been too specialised, and the people who do really well are the ones who are adaptable… Such employers say they want students with a variety of background disciplines. They want graduates who can think in different ways, who can think laterally and who can connect with clients,” said Dean Dixon.

A Recap on Why Big Law is On Its Way Out

Law firms are undergoing massive restructuring to remain competitive. Online law firms, international law firms, joint accounting & law businesses, technology, changing regulations, the move away from billable hours to results based billing, flexible work arrangements and more are threatening the market dominance Big Law firms once held over the legal market and prompting massive change within the Australian law field.

Mid-Tiers Are Where It’s At

Mid-tier firms in the past relied upon employing big corporate firm lawyers who were looking for a change, but now that approach doesn’t bring results as the flow-on isn’t enough, prompting more mid-tiers to look into doing their own graduate recruitment.

“We are now seeing real growth and exciting opportunities in the mid-tier and specialist boutique firms. It’s a much more competitive market, but a lot of people don’t realise what is out there. There are also entry level roles which are advertised on employers’ websites specifically targeting  recent graduates,” says Ms Glanz, who points to positions-both legal and non-legal- with investment and trading banks, government and  corporations “You have to know to go there.”” Informed Joanne Glanz, UNSW Law Careers Services Manager and former Mahlab Recruitment executive consultant.

Where Should Law Graduates Look?

As the number of clerkships decline, legal graduates need to think outside the box when job hunting. Those employing legal graduates for legal and/or non-legal work today are:

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