In addition to good academic achievements and extra-curricular activities, recruiters will also look at practical experience of their candidates, ideally in areas of law or industries relevant to the organisation. Annina Tropea provides five reasons why law students need this type of experience during their degree at law school.
The lawyers and staff you will meet during your practical experience are some of the most inspirational and important people during your law degree. Their determination to fight for their clients truly inspires you and will encourage you to see that all your hard work will pay off in the end. Lawyers are a great resource for tips and tricks during your degree, and will provide great assistance when learning how to draft letters to clients and even work on your communication skills. Seeing the staff in their elements puts all your work into perspective. At times, your law degree will become stressful, and these people are perfect to seek guidance and clarification from as they have walked in your shoes and understand the pressures you are experiencing. I cannot think of better mentors to inspire you on your journey of law. It is also a great opportunity to meet your peers and speak with people who have the same interests and backgrounds as you do.
Do you ever wonder if it is worth studying all night? Ever thought of throwing in the towel and just giving up? Volunteer at your local Community Legal Centre (CLC) and you will see why your law degree is so important. Clients of CLCs typically experience some form of hardship, and their stories are what you will look back on during all your exam study sessions and late night assessments. When you hear of the injustice, they have suffered and pain they have experienced you will want to stay at the CLC as long as you can, perfecting their applications and making sure you know any relevant case law and legislation that can assist their claim. Your degree is what you will use to help disadvantaged clients and what will shape your whole understanding of their matter. As lawyers, we are determined to fight for justice, and ensure the law is followed to the highest degree, and you will develop this passion once you meet your clients. Exposure to clients is essential during your law degree to understand who you will be working for once you embark on your career.
It is one thing to develop the ability to draft coherent and intellectual essays at university but is a completely different thing to drafting a letter to a client. A client does not want to sit and read a 5,000-word essay on the in personam exception to the Torrens System of land, they want an easy to follow, clear and efficient letter that gets straight to the point, and answers their concerns. Gaining practical experience will teach you how to draft letters (legal jargon free) that clients can easily understand.
When I started my degree, I enjoyed studying legislation, common law and legal theories but often worried about how I would apply these in a courtroom or tribunal. How do I address a Magistrate? Who do I speak to to obtain a client’s police brief? How do I make a Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal application? All valid questions that can be answered during your practical experience! Your degree is important to understand the law, but it is your practical experience that will educate you regarding procedures, formalities and the working life of a law firm. On the plus side, if you have the opportunity to accompany a lawyer to court, jump at the opportunity! Watching a lawyer properly address a judge, liaise with courtroom staff and address a client’s matter in court are important details you’ll need to know once you complete your degree.
An essential skill you will develop during your practical experience is time management. Mark these words, highlight them and read them every night. If you’re in first or second year and finding it difficult to balance all your studies, volunteer or look into some part-time work at a firm! It is important you develop balancing skills in order to ensure all the tasks you are given for the day are completed. You will learn how to organise your time, set limits and ignore distractions (yes, I promise it is possible). Time management skills can be used in other aspects of life as well. They can be used to balance study time for units, social time with friends and the odd Netflix binge. The skills you derive from practical experience are easily transferable to your law degree and a work/life balance is no exception.
The Big Picture
Law is a special kind of degree, as we are exposed to multiple legal disciplines within one course. We have the opportunity to flavour the different types of law before we decide which we enjoy the most and aspire to use it in practice. However, until you participate in the practical side of that legal discipline, you will not see the big picture of that kind of law. For example, studying criminal law and attaining a high mark differs from practising criminal law without any experience. Will you be able to represent a defendant? Will you be able to develop and utilise various people skills? How will you feel about the results of a criminal trial? You need the big picture during your law degree before you dive into that field of law for a career to get a sense of how that field works in practice. You need to understand, and get a feel for different practice areas before you commit yourself and ignore other fields, simply based on what you enjoyed during your degree.
This article was written by Annina Tropea. Annina is currently in her final year of a double degree in Arts/Laws, and volunteers at two Community Legal Centres.