Too Many Law Students, and Not Enough Jobs?

Too Many Law Students, and Not Enough Jobs?
Tips for Lawyers Podcast

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It’s one of the most common discussion points that comes up – are there simply too many law students, and not enough jobs?

But in reality, that’s not the main issue.  Most people don’t care how saturated the profession is as some fascinating intellectual discussion.  Rather, they care about one question: how can they get a job?

In this podcast I discuss:

  • how many law students are there in Aus?
  • what can you do to distinguish yourself from the pack?
  • how to give yourself a warm introduction and maximise your job prospects in the legal profession.

Happy Lawyering!

Transcript – Are there Too Many Law Students, and Not Enough Lawyers?

Welcome to the Tips for Lawyers Podcast. This is Chris Hargreaves from tipsforlawyers.com, and this is the podcast Episode 56, I think. I haven’t done a podcast in a while, so if you’ve been hanging out for a new one, welcome to this one. I’ve been in a lot of other activities around the site and around the place recently, so I haven’t had too much of a chance to sit down and actually do some more recording. We left off in our real lawyers episode, and I might continue on that in the future, but for the moment, in this particular episode, I just wanted to have a quick chat about the job market and this perception of the job glut. I was speaking recently at a particular function, and there were a number of unemployed, soon to graduate law students there, and they were all, fairly understandably, concerned about their prospects of securing a job in this particular market.

What I wanted to highlight is that although the glut of law students does exist, and we’re looking at numbers in Australia, at least, of around 14,000 law students graduating in a given year and around 66 to 70,000 lawyers across the country, so if you have a look at those percentages, and bearing in mind that you’ll be a lawyer for maybe anywhere between 20 to 40 years, and if that number is at about the 70,000 mark, and there might be around 14,000 law students, then you’ve got a pretty decent percentage potentially being added to the profession every year. Now, within that, of course, not all of those particular law students will go on to do law. Last I saw any sort of numbers, it was about 11% who don’t actually want to go into law.

I expect the numbers who don’t go into law despite originally wanting to are a little bit higher than that, but at the end of the day, what we have is a situation where there are a lot of law students, and not necessarily that many positions. This is rightly worrying to a lot of people who want to find jobs, but I think there’s a lot of negative rhetoric around there, and in particular where you’ve applied for clerkships, and you’ve not been accepted into a clerkship for one of the bigger firms, then you really don’t quite know what to do next. It would be easier to go, “Well, I’m just not going to get a job. What am I going to do? Do I have to look on SEEK every day? Do I have to go to the Job Network? Careers days? What am I supposed to do to actually secure a job?”

What I really wanted to say today, and it’s not going to take that long, is, firstly, pick yourself up out of the dirt and dust yourself off, because the fact that a couple of firms have not gotten to your résumé or decided, for whatever reason, that you are not a good fit for them, is not a personal affront on you. It is not a judgment that you are not going to be good enough to be a lawyer, and it is not, in the overall scheme of things, an indication that you are unemployable. I want to put this into perspective for you. In Queensland, for example, some of the biggest firms, maybe 25 or so of them, actually participate in a process where you all agree to advertise and select graduate positions at the same time. Within the context of that, obviously, a lot, if not all, of the law students apply for those positions, and most of them will be rejected. The vast majority will not be accepted into that program, let alone going forward actually with employment after that.

That would be easy to go, “Well, okay, I’ve been rejected from 100% of the job applications I’ve put out there,” but, and again, I’m focusing on Queensland here, I think it’s easy to become distorted in the view of just how much setback you’ve actually suffered. You’ve maybe applied to 25 firms, say, and you might not have applied to all of them. You might have only applied to some, but let’s say you’ve applied to 25 firms. Have you actually gone and looked how many firms there are in your state or in your area? Because in Queensland, there’s at least 1,000 law firms, and so in the context of this feeling that you’ve got where you’ve been knocked back, and that somehow you’ve become unemployable, you have really applied to practically none of the available opportunities for employment. That’s just in Queensland, let alone across Australia, let alone overseas.

If you are feeling a little bit down and out or unable to get a job, what I wanted to hone in upon is, the chances are that you have not even come close to getting knocked back enough times to have that perception of yourself that you are somehow unemployable, or that you are somehow not going to get a job ever. You have applied to a tiny percentage of law firms, I suspect. Sure, you might have been knocked back, and that might have been for any number of reasons. It’s worth analyzing those reasons at some point, but for now, what I wanted to do is to encourage you to get out and meet some more people, because by far the most reliable, it’s not totally foolproof, but the most reliable way to get employment is by knowing someone who’s in an influential position in the firm that you’re applying to. That will get your CV past the gatekeepers. That will get you, potentially, into an interview, and it might get you past the interview into a job.

If you have a warm introduction into a firm, then it’s going to go a huge amount smoother than if you are simply a name on a piece of paper that nobody has ever heard of, met, or in any way come across before. How do you go about doing that? Well, personally, I think there are a number of options, and I’m going to focus on 2. Firstly, you can get out, actually, of your house, like leave, dress up in something appropriate, in business attire, and go to networking functions, law society functions, lawyers’ functions. Some of these will cost money, and some of them will not cost money. A lot of universities have these functions available where you can actually meet people from firms and start making those connections. Now, I don’t want to overstate this. If you meet 3 people, that’s not going to guarantee you 3 job offers. You need to go out, and you need to meet 100 people, or 1,000 people, or 5,000 people, and one of them might one day have a position that you might apply for, and that might get you through.

Now, I appreciate that sounds a little underwhelming, in terms of its efficacy, but in the longer term, this is a numbers game, because some firms won’t have positions, some firms will have hard cutoffs for GPAs that you might not meet, some firms will have positions in areas that you don’t want to work in. It is a numbers game. You need to go out, and you need to meet and be known to as many people as humanly possible. That is one option, go to networking functions, actually get out, meet and greet, shake hands, say hello, and then after that, you want to connect with them on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is by far the easiest and best opportunity you have to engage with people, either after you’ve met them, or as an introduction to meeting them in the first place.

Try and engage with people. Join a bunch of groups on LinkedIn, start liking things, start commenting on things, start sending people messages, not spam, but in the same way that you would get to know anyone at a party, or at a function, or when you go to uni, or when you’re working in a team. Get to know people within the industry, because it can only do you good in the long run, so far as your job hunt is concerned, because then if a position comes up, or if you feel that the relationship’s at the point where you can say, “Hey, are there any positions going in your firm? I would love to be a part of it,” then that opportunity might come up. If you can get that warm introduction, it will go a long way beyond you simply cold calling, which is a waste of time and insulting to everyone you do it to, or randomly sending résumés to people you don’t know. The other thing you can do, of course, is that if you identify a firm with a position, start to engage with the people from that firm on LinkedIn beforehand.

Now, I know there’s cutoffs, and I know there’s deadlines, and so there might be limited opportunity, but if they have a presence on LinkedIn, you can look up who the staff are, you can look up who works at that firm, and you can start to engage them. If you happen to get some form of engagement, or at least an interaction with, an acknowledgement by a like of, a comment with, a message with the decision-making partner who is associated with that particular job hire, then how much more do you think that will stand your application out than someone who has no such interaction? It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more than 0, which is where you’re currently at, so it’s really an embodiment of the 1 is greater than 0 proposition. You are better doing something like that than nothing like that. If you don’t do those things, if you want to tell yourself that you’re unemployable, then that’s fine, but at the end of the day, you haven’t actually gone as far as you need to go to determine that.

It is a numbers game. You will get knocked back a lot. It is not an indictment upon your abilities, it is not an indictment upon your future, it is not to suggest you are unemployable. All it is, is that you have not yet found your spot. That is my encouragement for today. I hope you will take it onboard and will use it in your job hunting endeavors. I wish you the best of luck if you’re in that position now, or if you’re in that position in the future, the principles still apply. Get to know people within the industry. That’s Chris signing off, as always. Please leave a review, or a rating, or a comment, or something nice to say on iTunes. If you go to tipsforlawyers.com/itunes, you will see there that you can do that straightaway on the iTunes platform. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

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