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Are law students ready for the real world?

These days Deborah Vasta is a well-respected magistrate at the Magistrates Court of Queensland.

But rewind 30 years and she was, like many others, a university student trying to navigate her way through a law degree. She sat down with QLS Proctor to reflect on her journey and the advice she gives to those entering the profession.

Her Honour had her first taste of the legal profession whilst completing work experience at the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) halfway through the second year of her degree at QUT.

While studying Criminal Law and Evidence, she soon discovered her new-found love.

“Those subjects lit a fire of enthusiasm for me,” she said. “I contacted a Crown Prosecutor and arranged to do work experience during my mid-year uni holidays.

“I loved the experience and quickly decided that my passion was to become a Crown Prosecutor. For the remainder of my degree I did work experience at the DPP every Friday and every uni holidays. It was so satisfying to have found my passion. I began full-time work there in November 1989 and was admitted as a barrister in October 1990.”

She says she feels she had the skills acquired at uni to meet the expectations of an employer when she began working because of her work experience.

“But, QUT was really progressive at arranging work experience placements for students,” she said.

“By my second year I had already done work experience with a solicitors firm (that specialised in insolvency and conveyancing) and a barrister (who practised in civil law).”

These days, Magistrate Vasta meets many young lawyers when they appear before her in court, and though she feels most of them are prepared after university, there is still no substitute for the experience gained through mentorship and actually attending court to learn as a young lawyer.

“Since the Moynihan reforms came in, committals are no longer the place for young lawyers to cut their teeth,” she said. “It was a great training ground for young lawyers.

“I think that experienced lawyers should take a young lawyer ‘under their wing’ and allow them to watch and experience every aspect of a trial.”

She said it was very important for young lawyers to have someone in the profession they could learn from.

“I think mentors are very important,” she said. “I have been very grateful over the years to have benefited from the wisdom and experience of lawyers, other magistrates and judges.

When it comes to her biggest piece of advice for newly admitted lawyers … she says patience is key!

“Building a career takes time,” Magistrate Vasta said. “Ensure that you are properly prepared and know your case, what you want to be the outcome and why your submissions should be preferred over those of your opponent.

“Always be honest with the court and act with integrity; you can spend years building up a reputation and destroy it within minutes.

“Treat everyone you meet with respect. You are not better than anyone else just because you have a law degree.”

To find out the facts about job readiness of graduates and entry level solicitors, QLS has engaged Bond University to conduct a research project to explore whether there are discrepancies between expectations and the current legal education system’s standards.

This important survey is anonymous and should take you about 10 minutes to complete. Your opinion is crucial and we need your input to build an evidence base to promote change for the profession.

Visit qls.com.au/jobreadiness to find out more and participate in the research survey.

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