Written by Dr Melanie Brockway- WORK300 UNE School of Law Student
‘With around 7,500 new law graduates each year in Australia, the challenge of obtaining a graduate position in such a competitive market is well known. While I am hoping my hardearned GPA will go in my favour, I am well aware of my Achilles heel; I have no relevant professional experience and I have been out of the workforce for seven years.
When it was announced Work300 was now available as a law elective, I quickly sought further information from the UNE Careers Office. Seriously, what a great opportunity to gain some much-needed work experience and to tick off one of my final units! It all looked like a straight forward process; find a 120 hour work placement and agree the assessments with the academic supervisor. I polished my CV, and quickly obtained constructive feedback and approval from the Careers Office. I then gave myself four weeks to secure a placement before I needed to officially enrol at the commencement of Trimester 2…… how hard could it be?
I won’t lie, finding a placement was time-consuming! I focussed on firms specialising in personal injury, as this aligns to my interest in health law and previous professional background. I rang or emailed around 25 firms, tailoring my email cover letter and CV to each one. Responses varied from unpleasant phone encounters with rude secretaries, to nice replies but none the less rejections. There were also a lot of non-responders. It was hard not to feel disheartened, and my concern about what this meant for future employment opportunities began to mount. Testament to the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and highlighting the importance of networking, I ultimately secured my placement through a contact I’d made as a student member of Victorian Women Lawyers.
I am now half-way through my placement at Adviceline Injury Lawyers, the personal injury branch of Holding Redlich. I am shadowing Tina, who is a Senior Associate and coincidentally a UNE law graduate. The placement is three days a week over six weeks. 2 This is ideal from a family perspective, while also allowing me to keep up with LAW480 and juggle other commitments.
I must confess, I didn’t know what to expect of the placement; could I make a meaningful contribution, is the reality of legal practice what I imagined, at 40 am I too old? Fortunately, my fears have been quickly allayed. The placement has been an amazing experience. I am constantly learning and am gaining real hands-on experience in researching files and preparing case summaries, assisting in the preparation of letters of advice, making file notes, and attending conferences with clients and counsel. Importantly, I feel equipped for these tasks. In particular, my legal research skills and ability to quickly absorb new information are holding me in good stead. The placement has also confirmed my interest in personal injury law, and how my previous professional experience complements this. In a win for all fellow mature-aged students, my age is not proving disadvantageous. A real learning has been how my life and previous professional experience are helping me in interactions with clients. I am certain they provide me with extra confidence and skills in the workplace. At the midway point of my placement I feel encouraged and far more optimistic about my future career prospects. I urge anyone considering Work300-LAW to give it a go; but, for now I’m looking forward to maximising the remainder of my placement.’