While many law graduates leave university feeling ‘book smart’, some graduates feel like they don’t have enough ‘real world’ experience.
Jessica Popple graduated from university just three years ago and was recently announced as President of the Sunshine Coast District Law Association. She sat down with QLS Proctor to reflect on her legal career journey and to share some advice she has for other young lawyers.
Jessica studied at the University of the Sunshine Coast and says she was lucky as she felt supported by the DLA and external stakeholders.
“We were the first group to go through USC and everyone wanted to see us succeed,” she said.
After university, Jessica began working as a clerk at Cooroy Legal Centre.
“I had been applying for roles throughout my time at uni, but it wasn’t until the January after I finished uni that I was offered a position in a firm,” she said.
She says that since she graduated in law she’s seen a significant change in attitude amongst students.
“Students don’t seem to want to be as involved as we were,” she said. “They don’t take opportunities that are presented to them as quickly.
“Unfortunately, a lot of students aren’t guaranteed ‘real world’ experience and are left to seek unpaid work experience to get it. I think those skills or simple legal tasks (like email etiquette and interview skills) could be taught a lot better at university and PLT.”
She says this ‘hands-on’ real-life experience is so important.
“Students need to know not only how to communicate by writing, but also orally,” she said. “The best way to learn how to communicate with clients on a personal level is to do it. On the coast, USC offers clinical placements at the Suncoast Community Legal Service and internship programs. Without those, I would have had no experience before my first legal role when I finished university.”
She says she feels the legal profession supports young lawyers who are entering the profession, but more could be done.
“I think regionally, we do a fantastic job on the Sunshine Coast,” she said. “I think that there could be more guidance about the admission process.
“I’ve been lucky to have access to some incredible mentors (both formal and informal) but I know some students are not so lucky – I think ensuring that students know where they can access mentors is really important.”
She says newly admitted lawyers also needed to get out there and network.
“If I hadn’t networked throughout university and met as many people as I could, I would not be working in the role I am,” she said.
“I met my employer at one of the first DLA events I attended, and she tells me that she still remembers that day. Showing your face and getting involved in your LSA/LSS/DLA is the best way to get a foot in the door.”
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 approximately 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.