Mentorship program empowers law students and alumni to navigate early-career crossroads
Dhinesh and Aryan sitting together smiling
Aryan Shresth (left) is an ANU Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Politics, Philosophy and Economics student who recently participated in a mentorship program with alumnus Dhinesh Thanenthirarajah (BEc/LLB (Hons) ’20).
When I spoke with Aryan, I said I knew exactly what he was going through because I could relate to that situation only a few years earlier.

If you’re a law student unsure about the best career path to take after graduation, you’re not alone.

Is it better to pursue the clerkship route and secure a job at a law firm? Maybe a graduate role in the public service? Or perhaps you should back yourself and go for that associateship, or even try your hand at consulting work?

For many, tunnel vision about the ‘best’ career pathway can set in before graduation.

“As you progress through law school, you can lose sight of that and focus solely on which law firm or department you want to work at, what kind of law you’d like to specialise in and so on,” said Aryan Shresth, a fifth-year Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at The Australian National University (ANU).

“A law degree is a real door-opener; you can go into so many fields and it’s important to keep sight of that.”

It’s a valuable life lesson Aryan recently acquired through the ANU College of Law’s Momentum mentoring program, which pairs latter-year law students with alumni mentors.

Mentorship as a ‘great equaliser’

Aryan’s mentor was Dhinesh Thanenthirarajah (BEc/LLB (Hons) ’20), who since March 2022 has worked as a graduate at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This month, Dhinesh commenced his posting as Third Secretary at Australia’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Despite his career accomplishments, Dhinesh remembers experiencing the same uncertainty and self-doubt Aryan felt.

It’s something Dhinesh calls the “early-career crisis”, although mentorship during this time can help students maintain perspective during a time when it’s most valuable.

“One of the unique challenges for law students is that you make these critical decisions in the penultimate year of your degree – things like the pressure to secure clerkships and internships come early,” explained Dhinesh.

“By the time you’re in your final year, there is an expectation that you have your life figured out, which is impossible for most people.”

Fortunately for Dhinesh, his transition from law school to the workforce was made easier by the “great equaliser” of the Momentum program.

“I was actually a part of it as a mentee a few years ago. I had an amazing mentor, Nish Perera (BA/LLB (Hons) '16, GDLP '17; Assistant Director, DFAT), and what I’ve seen and experienced is that career growth within the first years of graduation is exponential when you receive guidance  from mentors,” he said.

“There is so much personal and professional growth in those first few years. I recognised how valuable my experience was (as a mentee), and I can sincerely say I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without the help of my mentors.”

Aryan was thrilled upon learning he had been matched with Dhinesh. The pair quickly clicked, setting the tone for a fruitful mentorship distinct from the short-term and, sometimes intimidating, environment of networking events.

“You can go to networking events and seek advice, but it’s hard to get a proper sense of the experience in a brief chat. To foster a relationship with a mentor, where you exchange thoughts and views, allows you to develop a far more detailed, broad understanding of what it actually means to be a legal professional,” said Aryan, who was born in India and completed his schooling in Brisbane and Singapore.

Insight from recent experience

According to Aryan, one of the biggest advantages of the Momentum program is that it pairs law students with alumni for whom graduation – and the pressures that come before it – are still fresh memories.

“There are usually two types of people law students approach when seeking advice: your peers at law school or a professor or someone high up in the field you’re seeking to enter,” he said.

“Finding someone who has navigated the same path more recently is what I wanted in a mentor. Someone who had the knowledge and relevant experience of what I’m facing was crucial for me.”

Having benefited firsthand as a mentee, Dhinesh agreed that advice from someone in your shoes not too long ago can shed light on the bigger picture of possibilities. This is especially valuable for those who, like Dhinesh and Aryan, may feel at a disadvantage to those with established personal or professional connections in Canberra or the legal profession.

“When you’re approaching the end of your ANU studies, there are a lot of career ‘blind spots’. Having someone just a few years ahead of you who can bring the insight of that experience is really beneficial,” Dhinesh said.

“When I spoke with Aryan, I said I knew exactly what he was going through because I could relate to that situation only a few years earlier. Some people come to Canberra, or they’re from Canberra, where they already have established contacts through friends or family who are in particular places. For me, I didn’t know anyone before I came here and I didn’t have easy access to mentors or advice in my network.”

Aryan currently works as a paralegal at the Office of International Law at the Attorney-General’s Department. While he is still keeping his options open beyond graduation at the end of this year, the knowledge and words of wisdom passed on from Dhinesh have put him in good stead – no matter which direction his law degree takes him

“Even beyond navigating the application process or starting your first job after graduation, one of the most valuable pieces of advice Dhinesh gave me was that the path isn’t set in stone. There is that flexibility to go from the private to public sectors, and it isn’t a one-stop shop where you go forever,” he said.

“If you demonstrate a passion, even if it’s in a field you’re not currently in, you can move to that field. That was quite relieving to hear.”

Other stories you might like