“When it comes to application time, people go into a frenzy, pumping out dozens of resumes and applications.”
I am a first-year lawyer at Hunt & Hunt Lawyers.
Even though I grew up around law, with my father and some other family being lawyers, I wasn’t 100% set on law as a kid. But I started doing Legal Studies in year 11, which got me hooked. Law controls so much of our lives, if you think about it: it governs the way people interact, how business is run – even how the country is run.
Because I didn’t have the marks to get straight into a Law degree, I decided to do a Bachelor of Legal Studies at Latrobe. It’s related to law, but more as a sociological study of law, which I thought would be interesting.
I did a year of that, and then transferred into a Law/Arts degree in 2011, committing to law.
I really enjoyed my time at uni. Looking back, I wish I had taken up more extracurricular activities that were on offer, but even so, I managed to do quite a bit: six months of exchange to study in Wisconsin, a few weeks in Shanghai to study Chinese law and an opportunity to do volunteer work in the area of migration law at the university law clinic.
The first couple of years of uni, I worked part time in a supermarket bottle shop, which fit in pretty well with my studies. But then I ran into an old friend who was also studying law. She told me that she had this great job at National Australia Bank, working in their in-house team as a Legal Services Advisor. She told me it was essentially a role for later-year law students, and there were some openings coming up. I applied and got a casual job there.
Basically, the role focused on monitoring transactional risk for the bank.
We would analyse all the various transactions coming in – such as plans of subdivision, leases, and trust fund lending, and review them to ensure the bank’s interests were protected in the case of default, or if the bank would want to enforce their mortgage.
It was a pretty great job, and I learnt a fair bit about property law in my two years there. I got to have some close interactions with senior NAB legal staff, including sitting right next to the National Head of Legal Services, who was a great influence on us and got us involved in a lot of national projects.
There were students from most Victorian universities working on the team, so it was a really great environment and it fit really well with the uni schedule, allowing us to pick our hours and have time off for exams.
Once you reach your penultimate year in law school, the most daunting things for any law student are the seasonal clerkships.
These are basically month-long internships that you do at law firms during summer or winter holidays of your final year.
They are seen as the pathway into graduate jobs. The fact is, law schools these days are pumping out ten times more graduates than there are graduate job positions. And the law firms tend to hire graduates who have already done a seasonal clerkship with them.
So the pressure on students to get the clerkship is intense.
When it comes to application time, people go into a frenzy, pumping out dozens of resumes and applications, each one specifically tailored to the firms they’re targeting. So much time and effort goes into that, and the stress is ridiculous, because people see it as their only chance of getting a job at the end of university.
The competition is really intense: pretty much every law student from all the law schools in Victoria is applying for these few spots. Which means a lot of people, even with really great marks, still miss out.
Because the firms are so spoilt for choice, they look for people who already have some type of experience.
Most penultimate year students don’t have that, they may be working in hospitality or supermarkets, or haven’t had a job yet. These jobs are supposed to give you experience, but you need experience to get them. It’s a bit of a vicious circle, and can be quite terrifying and demoralizing for people.
I pumped a lot of applications like everyone else.
I was fortunate enough to get 2 interviews, and got offered a clerkship and Hunt & Hunt.
I think what gave me an edge was my experience working at NAB and already having a lot of highly transferrable skills in property law.
In my clerkship, I got to choose my area, so I chose the property team to utilize by NAB background. The Hunt & Hunt property division is vast, with teams specializing in property and developments, wills and estates, compulsory acquisitions, leasing, government and planning and mortgage. With my experience at that time, I slotted really well into the mortgage team.
I got to work with the partner who oversaw the paralegal team that produces the lending documents and coordinates settlements for our lending clients, and learnt to work with the relevant legislation and compliance protocols.
I also got plenty of exposure to the other areas of the property team, and even ventured over to the corporate and litigation teams so I could get the broadest variety of experience I could from the month I was there.
I did the mid-year clerkship, so got to see the company working at full capacity to handle the end of the financial year rush. It was a really good experience for me.
After the clerkship and towards the end of my final year, I had to go through the application process again, this time for the graduate job. Again, everyone stresses and applies for the few available positions. Even the people who have done clerkships are not guaranteed a graduate job, as they are also competing with all the other clerks who’ve been through that firm with them and after them.
I had no guarantee of a grad job at Hunt & Hunt. They did ask me if I’d be interested at the end of my clerkship, but then they asked everyone that. I applied to them, and to a few other places.
After the clerkship application time, the next most terrifying day for law students is when the graduate offers come in.
It’s a very structured process, meaning that everyone applies at a certain times, and all the firms are only able to send out offers on the same day. I think it’s to ensure equality and to prevent the bigger firms from poaching the brighter students with early offers.
I remember the offer day very well. I was sitting in a lecture, staring at my phone. The offers were coming out 10am on the dot. So everyone was sitting there staring at their phones, not hearing a word of the lecture.
10 o’clock comes. You could feel the auditorium stir. All the phones started vibrating.
My heart jumped out of my mouth when my phone rang. I walked outside to take the call, and it was Hunt & Hunt, offering me the position.
It was a great day!
As a graduate lawyer, you are required to jump through one final hoop before getting admitted, by completing your Practical Legal Training (PLT, or what used to be known as articles).
There are two ways of doing it: either through a formal training program at a law college, or through a formal training program run by the firm you work for. Because these programs are really strict – you have to cover a certain range of topics, keep a journal, get everything checked and ticked off – most law firms prefer to send you offsite, to a college, to do the PLT.
It was in my graduate contract that I would get the time off work to attend classes, study and sit exams. The rest of the time I was working at the firm.
As a graduate at Hunt & Hunt, you are rotated through two teams.
I rotated through the property team again and then through the corporate and commercial practice group, where I learnt aspects of employment, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, customs and global trade, and general corporate work. It was really interesting. I got to instruct in court for the first time, where you sit in front of the barrister and help him with supporting docs and information, which was exciting for me.
One of the more challenging things I had to learn that year was dealing with clients, something I had not yet done. I had to learn to be prepared for difficult questions, to be diplomatic and communicate clearly.
The hardest thing actually, was to stop speaking in legalese. When you’re in uni, you’re taught to write and speak in a way that only a lawyer will understand. It gets ingrained into you, and it’s hard to then translate the jargon into plain English.
It took me a long time to adjust to speaking plainly, I’m probably still adjusting, actually.
I’d write a letter for a partner, and they would chop it to pieces, saying “The client won’t understand”. Or I’d be in a meeting, explaining an issue to a client, and then realize that they’re just looking at me blankly, not understanding a word I’ve said. I have to catch myself and apologize, and start again.
Working full time for the first time was a big transition. Going from a pretty cruizy university lifestyle, to long hours and hectic work days. For the first few months, I was just tired all the time. Eventually you get used to it, of course, and the year flew by.
After you finish your graduate year, you are not guaranteed a job at the end of it – only if you have proven yourself during your time, you get offered a first year lawyer position. So I was pleased when Hunt & Hunt offered me a job, and I knew I’d be staying on with them.
For the summer holidays when the firm shut down, I decided to give myself another huge challenge and climb to Mt Everest base camp.
I joined another friend of mine who was celebrating her graduation with the hike.
We flew out on Boxing Day, landing in Kathmandu. The climb took 15 days to base camp and back. I’d never done a hike in my life, so it was a pretty extreme way of trying it. But I’m good shape physically, having captained a reserve football side for the last few years.
As it turned out, fitness wasn’t even the main challenge – it was the altitude sickness.
As we got higher and higher, people were getting sick left, right and centre. Doesn’t matter how fit you are – once you get the sickness, the only way to get better is to get back down, but walking isn’t fast enough, so most people get helicoptered down.
Every morning as we started walking, you saw this chain of helicopters just going up and down, taking down sick people.
Like most people there, I took altitude medication, but I was still lucky not to get sick as the medication only works up to a point. Eventually we got to the camp. It was amazing. The air was so thin, you took two steps and felt like you’ve run a kilometre.
That was a pretty memorable celebration of becoming a lawyer!
Once I got back, I had my admission ceremony in February. You go to the Supreme Court; it’s a big presentation by the Chief Justice. You have to get another lawyer to ‘move’ you – that is, vouch for you in front of the judge. My dad did it, so it was a nice family moment.
My dad has been a great support to me throughout my studies and work. He’s got his own small practice in the suburbs as he’s done the whole big firm thing, but we still talk and I ask him for advice.
He always checks up on me to see how I’m going, and makes sure I’m not getting overworked or abandoning my footy. He is really concerned with mental health issues, which are very prevalent with lawyers, as it’s such a high stress job.
There is definitely stress. Where I work, it mostly comes from a high workload combined with tight deadlines.
Sometimes you have a bunch of files all land on your desk with the same deadline.
You have to drop everything and get to work on things that take priority. Often that means having other important tasks getting pushed back, which builds the backlog and the stress.
But that’s the reality of the job, so you must learn to prioritize, time manage. My hours are pretty reasonable – I’m not expected to stay at the office late just for the sake of being there. But then there are the times when it gets busy, and then I’m expected to come in early or stay later to get the job done.
My work primarily surrounds the mortgage team, retail and commercial leasing, and property and development work.
For each area, I work under specific partners, so I’m getting exposed to a good variety of issues.
Every partner I work with is different. They all have their quirks and their way of doing things – the way the work, the way they write.
You can’t get offended if you’ve spent hours writing a piece of advice, only to have them write amendments all over it until it is barely recognizable. You just have to learn how each partner operates, and work with that – it’s all part of the learning process.
The partners I work for know that I’m learning, so they often go out of their way to give me opportunities to learn, to solve a problem on my own and learn through doing.
I’m grateful for that, and have a lot of respect for the people I work with.
I’m gradually getting more independence. I have my own files that I run, my own client relationships. Of course my advice and work still gets checked and monitored, but none the less, my responsibilities are growing. I really like that that’s happening so early in my career. This shows to me that I am growing as a lawyer, and must be doing something right!
Outside of work I am still playing footy.
I make sure I make time for it, it is my way to relax, blow off steam. I’ve also taken up an opportunity to become a mentor for the Law Institute of Victoria. I’m currently in a program mentoring a young woman who is doing her PLT. We catch up to talk about the industry, and I’ve helped her get some casual work at my firm. I am only a couple of years ahead of her, so I remember the stress of students in her position, trying to break into the industry.
So far, I’m happy with my career progress; I feel like I’ve gotten where I wanted to be at this age.
My immediate goals are to climb the ranks of law.
Next step will be to become an associate, perhaps in a couple of years’ time. From there a senior associate, then eventually a partner.
I feel like I’ve learnt so much in the last year; I want to continue that really steep learning trajectory to continue absorbing as much as I can, and prove myself in this industry. From there, who knows..!