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How do law students and graduates choose where to work?  (Part One)

Posted by Allen Li on 13-Jul-2017 08:47:01

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Crap – I’ve just realised I’m no longer a young-buck.  Gene has asked me to look at something, because I’m “closer to the young people than [he is]”.  “Closer to”?!  Here I was, assuming I belonged to the youngest generation of lawyers (millennials), when gen Z is now coming through and making their mark on the profession.  

What are these young lawyers looking for when deciding where to work?

It seems just like yesterday I was doing the circuit of summer clerk pre-interview drinks in Dunedin, hoping to have engaging conversations with people that have been there, and done that (and who potentially held the keys to my legal career).  At the time, some of the things that mattered most to me were market reputation (I had equated top reputation with better chance of me becoming a top lawyer and carrying out the most interesting and meaningful work), culture and people (I wanted to work somewhere where I enjoyed the company of my colleagues and respected what they stood for).  Other people would have had their own priorities.  What are law students and graduates looking for now?  I have a feeling that issues such as social responsibility, access to justice, the environment, technology, and work-life balance are more important.  Am I right? 

To find out, I asked two people I’ve met in my travels at LawHawk, both of whom are heavily engaged with the law school and recent graduates community in either New Zealand or Australia: (i) Geordie Johnson (students / young lawyers (NZLSA) representative on the New Zealand Council of Legal Education; and also graduate at Russell McVeagh); and (ii) Milan Gandhi (Director of The Legal Forecast, a “not-for-profit run by early-career professionals who are passionate about disruptive thinking and access to justice”; and also research clerk at McCullough Robertson).

First up is Geordie.  Watch out for the next one featuring Milan.

Geordie Johnson

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Why did you choose to become a lawyer?

Quite uninspiringly, I ended up studying law because the careers advisor at my secondary school recommended it based on my NCEA Economics and English marks. Even in my first year or two studying at Victoria University law school, I wasn't really taken by law and considered other options. It wasn't until I got through to my elective papers and was able to choose my course of study that I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I was fascinated by the reach of the law and how it transcends everything. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time practicing law so far.

Why did you choose to be a representative for law students and recent graduates?

I had always enjoyed the work that the Victoria University of Wellington Law Students' Society ("VUWLSS") did and had kept an eye out no how to get involved. I found the mix of social, educational, and competitions added real value to my time at law school, over and above just attending lectures. My role on VUWLSS led to another role on the New Zealand Law Students' Association, and ultimately to my current role as the students / young lawyers representative on the New Zealand Council of Legal Education.

What do you think law students and recent graduates are now looking for when choosing where to work (or not)?  Can you rank them from most important to least important?

I think more and more, students and graduates are developing a desire for more flexibility in their working lives with greater 'work / life balance' (although this can mean very different things to different people).  The ability to pursue interests outside the office and the flexibility to build hobbies into the working day are sought after.

Another big draw card is providing employees with both personal and professional development opportunities (such as the opportunity to learn other languages or providing a range of speaker seminars on non-law related topics).

Where would understanding of disruption and use of technology fit into the equation? 

That’s a very interesting question. I would say overall there currently isn't a lot of awareness around how firms are responding to disruption and newer levels of technology. Most of what students know is what comes through at law school where the impact of technology and other disruption in the profession is not widely addressed. 

What advice would you give to college students thinking about studying law or choosing where to work?

Hmm one of the questions I always used to ask so perhaps the best advice I could offer would be to not stress about exactly what you study and just select papers or courses that you enjoy. I was always told that ultimately you'll learn everything you need to know on the job and this has definitely been the case. Law school is more about teaching you the skills to analyse, digest key points, and develop (hopefully) coherent arguments. You can pick up the nitty gritty as you go.  

What do you think the legal profession will look like in 10 years?

This is something that deserves quite a bit of thought with legal jobs being susceptible to changes caused by AI and increasing uses of technology. The fact that as a graduate I can just 'control f' a document to jump directly to the information I need rather than spending half a day reading the document as a whole to find the same information shows how big an impact technology has already had.

I think the improved efficiencies of 'grunt work' will inevitably lead to a slimming down of the legal profession with the same or growing level of work being able to be serviced by less lawyers. This is worryingly out of step with a number of law schools increasing their intakes and ultimately producing more graduates.   

The emphasis for lawyers will start to drift slightly away from mastering legal based skills such as drafting to other less precise ones, such as understanding the impact of potential nuances involved (the value sets of a decision maker or the underlying interests of parties).

Thanks Geordie!  To catch Milan's responses, check out Part 2 next week.

Topics: Practise of Law, Future of Law, Law Firm Management

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