Insights 04 March 2024

What I wish I had known as a law student/graduate

As a law student/graduate, you have likely spent most of your life studying to be where you are at right now.  As you finish these studies, you will naturally start to consider your career aspirations and think about where you want to head next.  To some, the prospect of commencing a career in law may be daunting, whereas to others it may be a time of excitement.

When I started my career with Coulter Legal, I was a blank sheet and had zero experience in the legal profession.  Since then, I have learned A LOT and I wish I had learned some these lessons prior to commencing my university studies and career in the legal profession.  These lessons are outlined below, in the hope that it will assist you to navigate and traverse the legal landscape as a law student; law graduate; and graduate lawyer.

  1. Get involved

When I say get involved, I do not necessarily mean volunteering all your time away on various committees or in moot competitions, particularly if these activities are of no interest to you.  While these activities are clearly beneficial and look good on your resume, your focus should be on putting yourself in situations where you will have the best opportunity to build your desired skillset and make long-lasting relationships.  This can take the form of getting involved with your university law society (if still at university), networking events, or other extra-curricular activities such as sporting clubs or music bands.  This will serve to build both your social life, which has clear mental health benefits, as well as your business connections.  As they say, it is not what you know, but rather, who you know.  You never know where those connections will take you in the future.

  1. Do not compare yourself to others

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and there is no “mould” that you need to fit into.  As you near the end of your university studies, some will get jobs in the legal industry straight away and others will not.  It is not a race, go at your own pace.  You will have plenty of time in the legal industry to build upon your strengths and weaknesses.  Once in the legal industry, everyone will have different experiences.  Remember, all experience is good experience and at the very least, the experience will assist to grow and develop your “soft skills”, such as your communication skills; problem solving; and time management.

  1. Do not get fixated on your university grades

While university grades may matter to get employment at a top-tier law firm, other law firms have a growing focus on “soft skills”, particularly, social skills.  Law students and early-career lawyers tend to be perfectionists and therefore, can tend to become fixated on getting good grades.  However, your grades do not define you and a potential employer will look at your grades in light of your other attributes, including your personality.  Your potential employers will be interested in getting to know you, outside of your grades.

  1. Maintain your personal interests

Your personal interests and social life outside of work/study play a crucial role in taking care of your mental health.  Burnout is common in the legal industry.  Noting this, maintain a work-life balance – and do not lose touch with your personal interests or your social life!  Your personal interests will also show to your employer that you are well-rounded individual.  Your personal interests may be a point of relatability to your potential employers and future clients.

  1. You are not expected to have industry-specific experience

Many may say otherwise but, based on my experience, you are not expected to have any industry-specific work experience.  Saying that, you should try and gain as much work experience as possible. From this work experience, whether in hospitality or retail, you will develop skills that will be transferrable to a career in the legal industry.  Your potential employer will see that, and they may see those skills as special or unique, which makes you stand out from other candidates.

  1. Be open minded

As a law student/graduate you should consider where you see yourself in the future.  This will include consideration of which areas of law interest you, and whether you can see yourself working in those areas of law in the future.   However, you should note that legal practice is very different to university.  Therefore, your preconceptions on an area of law developed during university may not be entirely accurate.  How you perceive an area of law will in no doubt change as you gain practical legal experience.  Noting this, when looking for job opportunities and commencing your career in law, you should keep an open mind.

If you have any queries, please contact myself or Coulter Legal’s Recruitment team at

Owen Barrett.
Owen Barrett Lawyer Litigation & Dispute Resolution View profile
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