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Opinion Piece - Would you like fries with that?

Opinion Piece – Would you like fries with that?

Published on June 23, 2015 by David Jones

This article was first published in Justitia Vol 1. 2015.

Being a qualified lawyer, several years ago I was told the obligatory legal joke when attending a social function.  

Question: What’s the first question that a law graduate asks you?
Answer: Would you like fries with that!

The undertone was obvious, too many graduates for the legal services market.

For many young people, law remains an attractive career with a wide range of practice areas that offer specialisation. As a lawyer who was first admitted in June, 1991 it is no surprise that the competiveness to enter courses and then the challenge to enter the workforce, has intensified over the years and will continue to do so.

As more and more quality graduates come onto the market, firms benefit from an array of graduates from whom they can select new lawyers to join their practices.

It seems from the outside that the system works perfectly and to all intents and purposes, it mostly does; however, my belief is that there has been a narrowing of opportunities in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region for local law graduates due to a contraction in opportunities such as summer clerkships by larger law firms.

What I would like to suggest is that there is a much greater opportunity for firms, particularly in the Newcastle area, to do much more in being active contributors to the career development of young lawyers both before they graduate and indeed after.

As a proud resident of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley who has practised law here since being admitted, I am passionate about the opportunities Newcastle and the Hunter Valley provides for law graduates, in particular those who have obtained a law degree from the University of Newcastle.

And as a Partner in a locally based firm, I can also see the opportunities for firms in the Hunter to benefit in the long-term by providing greater opportunities for local law students and graduates.

The University of Newcastle has an outstanding law school that year in year out attracts high quality students and delivers outstanding graduates especially those who graduate from the Practical Legal Training stream.

The question that I pose is: what can local firms do to better support our local law students? To provide them with more undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities that retain the best and brightest here in Newcastle. Rather than losing them to other cities and other occupations due to the challenges of entering the law.

The simple fact is that that students who are well mentored and supported as they undertake their studies provide benefits to us all, because they are better rounded with additional skills and experience that can’t be obtained simply by attending lectures.

The greatest single impediment to students obtaining post graduation employment is the perception that they lack the necessary legal skills to provide quality legal advice to legal consumers.  This opinion is predicated on the belief that law graduates lack the necessary skills to provide such advice. The reality is that without appropriate pre and post graduate employment and mentoring a law graduate will never obtain the necessary skills to provide such advice.  This is very much a chicken and egg scenario.

I think the message for Newcastle and Hunter Valley law firms and the University of Newcastle is that we need to pick up our act with regards to developing greater opportunities for local law students, through summer clerkships, internships and the like, so that we can show them the great career opportunities that exist locally in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley and at the same time assist in developing legal skills.  There must be greater collaboration between the University of Newcastle and the local legal fraternity to ensure that these types of opportunities are developed.  The University has an obligation to provide its graduates with an opportunity for employment and the local legal community has an obligation to ensure that employment opportunities exist within the area.

Newcastle has a thriving legal sector which has the potential to provide a really comprehensive mentoring and skill building program for undergraduate students, but only if there is greater collaboration between students, the University of Newcastle and the local legal profession.

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