Prepare now to succeed in the future: Professional career advice from our alumni

Grand Graduation
ANU Law graduates reciting the ‘pledge’ during the 2018 Grand Graduation ceremony.

It is worthwhile getting any legal experience you can, whether that is a local law firm, or going out to more remote areas and working for a local solicitor.

Where can your law degree from The Australian National University (ANU) take you? How can you equip yourself with the knowledge to better succeed?

During ANU Virtual Open Week 2020, our alumni panel discussed their ANU Law experience, how they applied themselves during their studies, and shared tips on preparing for your dream career after graduation.

Our panel: 

What can you expect at ANU Law?

  • A close-knit community of students, alumni, professional staff and academics;
  • Like-minded people with shared interests in the law;
  • Research-led teaching by Australian and international legal scholars;
  • A collegial environment where life-long relationships are nurtured; and
  • Enthusiastic, caring lecturers who provide personalised advice to students.

“It's been years since I left ANU Law (and) I am still in regular contact with a lot of my lecturers, tutors and friends who I met through internships and classes,” says Tess Kelly (BA/LLB (Hons) '16), a Senior Policy Officer at Danila Dilba Health Service and ANU Law alumna.

Associate at Clyde and Co. Dan Trevanion (BA/LLB (Hons) ’17) was also surprised to discover that his small Canberra network suddenly expanded to include contacts from all over Australia and the world. He felt that his time at ANU enriched his studies and helped him to decide on his next steps following graduation.

Advice on improving grades

Sure, you've heard that law school is a pressure-cooker environment and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the coursework and voluminous readings. However, there are important things to remember when you feel isolated:

  • You are not alone;
  • You can ask for help and take advantage of ANU Law academic support services;
  • Make sure you put in the work (read those cases); and
  • Know that it is okay if you need to do fewer courses each semester (adding a few extra months onto the end of your degree to complete your studies is not the end of the world!)

Dan emphasised the importance of stepping back and assessing your current situation. “Always start with yourself. Ask yourself, 'Am I doing everything I can?' If the answer is 'yes', then look to other people for support. If the answer is 'no', you really need to look at yourself first and try to act on that,” he says.

Tips for surviving as an 'introverted' law student

  • Don’t feel obliged to join a multitude of clubs;
  • Your value and self-worth doesn't depend on fitting in with those with pre-existing networks;
  • Find what works best for you;
  • Share your passion with those you feel most comfortable; and
  • Be yourself!

How can I improve my employability?

  • Attend conferences;
  • Develop/discover your own interests;
  • Find your own narrative/path;
  • Reach out to someone you know to form a mentee/mentor relationship;
  • Sit on an editorial board of a journal (especially if you are interested in transitioning into any kinds of government law or research work); and
  • Volunteer at community legal centres, community support centres or join campaigns (especially if you have an interest in pursuing a client-facing career).

During Tess’s law studies at ANU, she became involved in a project in an Aboriginal community in Central Australia. She explained that her involvement, although not directly relevant to her law studies, offered her the opportunity to gain new experiences in a new environment well beyond her comfort zone. It was from participating in this project that Tess was introduced to a whole range of complex issues that she "tackled head-on".

“Put yourself out there and get involved. Even if you join St Vincent de Paul’s Night Patrol or join a community initiative, it is those kinds of opportunities that ... can become really important and even formulate where your legal skills take you,” says Tess.

More information on mentoring opportunities can be found here.

ANU College of Law alumna Grace Bramwell (LLB (Hons) ’19).

Is it necessary to gain practical experience during your studies?

Each of our alumni panellists agreed that hands-on practical experience, although not necessary, is a great way to expand your skillset across areas you may not have the opportunity to explore in the classroom. This can be via programs on offer at the ANU College of Law, including mooting competitions and internships or external opportunities such as volunteer work at community centres.

  • Volunteer worker to junior lawyer:

Deputy Managing Lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid and ANU Law alumna, Hollie Kerwin (BA/LLB (Hons) ’10), noted that many people she has worked with throughout her various roles built their way up from volunteer positions. Some, she added, had come from completely different career paths.

“I work with people who have come to community law or come to Legal Aid commissions, having rarely worked in any other sector. They volunteered in the beginning in a community legal centre, health justice partnership or allied service, and then when they finished their law degree they started doing casual work ... transition(ing) into a junior lawyer job. You'll find in organisations like the ones that I’ve worked for that there are people who've had entire other careers first.”

  • Intern to senior lawyer:

“I believe it is worthwhile getting any legal experience you can, whether that is a local law firm or going out to more remote areas and working for a local solicitor. I know many fantastic lawyers that have started their careers as an intern, and now they're senior lawyers that have been given jobs at big law firms later in life. These things can work in funny circles and I recommend taking up any opportunities that come your way,” says Tess.

  • Mooting from Canberra to Washington DC:

“I was very involved with the mooting program at ANU, some (competitions) of which you can get course credit. In total, mooting allowed me to travel to each of the capital cities in Australia, Tokyo and Washington DC. The main benefit of that was I got to meet people in all different locations and apply the ANU Law methodology of thinking about the law in a very practical way,” says Dan.

Advice on applying for jobs and setting up your career path:

  • Find what you love to do;
  • Set a realistic goal;
  • Decide on your career location;
  • Gain practical experience;
  • Be your authentic self;
  • Aim to reach your goals with enthusiasm, passion and dedication;
  • Demonstrate your skills and how you will meet the employers’ expectations;
  • Be inquisitive, curious and passionate; and always remember
  • The more applications you submit, the sooner you discover what aspects did and didn’t work.

An important observation Dan has discovered over his time applying for jobs is that it is all about what the employer is seeking. “You should hit the job requirements as if it were a checklist and say to yourself ‘Six months before the applications come out I’m going to do this, and this’, and then your application will be a lot stronger for it.”

Find out more about our ANU College of Law alumni community here.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team