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4 ways to get employed with a Juris Doctor (JD)

James Davis

Competition for law jobs has never been higher in Australia, so what are the secrets to landing one? We’ve compiled some great ways of breaking into the industry.

Law has never been more competitive. Even with a professional degree like the Juris Doctor, getting any sort of legal position is nothing short of treacherous. Business Insider once reported on a hard working law graduate who had to settle for a position he was overqualified for by the age of 28. The Australian Financial Review collected similar anecdotes; they featured a JD graduate who did clerkships, worked as a paralegal and at the UN. Yet she still couldn’t land a job.

The stats back up these stories. Australia produced 7,583 LLB and JD graduates in 2015, with roughly 30,000 current law students edging toward their degrees at any given time. The Age was even reporting on the overabundance of legal graduates four years ago, with a speculated 12,000 during that year. As of 2014, there were 66,211 practicing lawyers in Australia with scarcely the open positions for new entrants into the profession.

So what if you love law and want to pursue it regardless? More power to you, but getting a job isn’t going to be easy, even with these four tips. What they will do is give you the best chances of embarking on an exciting law career with your JD.

1. Start applying for associate positions and clerkships immediately

If you’re doing a JD, chances are you haven’t got any prior experience or knowledge in law. That’s completely fine; the degree is designed exactly for you. What might seem unintuitive is that you should be applying for whatever positions you can right from the start. Doesn’t matter if you know nothing at all. It doesn’t even matter if the very first lecture has yet to happen.

The time it takes to do your JD is the total time you have available to get in the door with these sorts of positions. As the poor lawyer mentioned in the Business Insider article soon discovered, graduating without having done a clerkship during the degree results in being considered overqualified for them later. This creates a vicious cycle of being unable to get an entry level job because you’re overqualified, but unable to land a fully-fledged lawyer position because you’re inexperienced.

Apply for things every day for the next three years. It’s the best chance you’ve got at getting experience vital to graduate employment. Once you’ve completed one clerkship, don’t stop there. Try to get into paralegal positions or legal assistance too. Do as many as possible right up until graduation and you’ll be a far more attractive prospect to big law firms.

2. Try to commit fully to the degree

Grades are of vital importance to a law student at all points in their degree, as they determine the ease with which they can gain the work experience previously mentioned. After all, a law student that has only completed a semester will be judged solely on grades achieved during that semester.

Department of Education and Training statistics show first year attrition rates to be around 15% across all programs, with part time students being more likely to drop out than full time students. Even if you feel committed to your JD now, studying part time to try and juggle an existing career could negatively influence your grades. It makes intuitive sense too; if you’ve got less time to study, the amount of academic work you can complete in any given week is reduced.

Stick to your full time career for some time to save money, then back it off as much as you can so you can study full time to maximise your chances of a strong GPA.

3. Do an excessive amount of networking

Even if you’re doing the above perfectly, in many cases getting a job comes down to roll of the dice. Those 7,000 annual graduates are all competitors and that’s not including the graduates from years past still looking for work. The best way to distinguish yourself is to join your university law society, attend networking events and do everything you can to secure email addresses and phone numbers. Collect business cards from existing lawyers and legal professionals; send messages out to all of them the following day. Set up meetings and offer to buy them coffee for a moment of their time. There’s a lot you can do to meet people and get your foot in the door to positions you’d otherwise have no way of accessing.

4. Flaunt your work experience

As a JD student, you’ve got a leg up on Bachelor of Laws graduates. The fact you’ve worked in any given industry shows that you’re more than a pretty face. It shows you can keep to a schedule and conform to a corporate culture. It shows you can do a full day’s work consistently, which is more than can be said for the countless graduates and students who’ve yet to prove themselves similarly. Your age and experience is an asset. Use it by leaning on it in cover letters, job interviews or even just in general networking.