The 10 things every lawyer needs to know to thrive in their first year

what is it like to be a lawyer
what is it like to be a lawyer

Law can be a rewarding and lucrative career choice.

According to legal recruitment trends, the demand for lawyers in Australia is stronger than ever. And Australian legal recruitment specialists Legal People agree: “We are finding that good candidates are receiving up to three offers of employment.”

The surge in demand for legal services in Australia has resulted in a solid performance in 2022, as the Thomson Reuters Institute reported in their 2022 Australia: State of the Legal Market report. Despite stormy business conditions, the Australian legal market reported a record rate of revenue growth of 10 per cent for the 2022 financial year.

“Australian law firms are uniquely positioned on the world stage and maintain a strategic position,” comments Jackie Rhodes, managing director of Asia and Emerging Markets at Thomson Reuters.

Whether you're looking to become a lawyer or add to your current skill set, the University of Canberra's online Juris Doctor has made it possible to learn the legal fundamentals while also satisfying admission to practise law in Australia. So, if you have ambitions of working in areas of law such as corporate, property or human rights law “now is an exciting time to be looking for and landing a new role,” reports Legal People.

What’s it like to be a lawyer?

The day-to-day focus of a lawyer depends on the area of law they have chosen to specialise in. However, some responsibilities you may find dedicating your time to include:

  • providing legal advice to clients
  • drafting legal documents (for example, contracts or wills)
  • gathering information or evidence
  • researching and applying relevant laws to your cases
  • prosecuting or defending in court
  • mediating or negotiating for your client.

How hard is it to become a lawyer in Australia?

In Australia, a Bachelor of Laws degree and a postgraduate Juris Doctor degree, also known as a JD, lead to professional accreditation to practise law. However, students who graduate with an internationally recognised Juris Doctor can pursue various careers inside and outside the profession of law. Inside, you could work in various fields, some of which include corporate law, property law, human rights and legal counsel. Outside the profession, it could lead to a career in politics, international relations, legal publishing or business.

To be eligible for the online Juris Doctor at the University of Canberra, you must have an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in any non-law discipline. Delivered online, the University of Canberra’s Juris Doctor enables student flexibility and allows you to fast-track your law studies to realise your career goals sooner.

[Alt: 10 tips for aspiring lawyers to prepare for the profession. 1. Find a mentor. 2. Network. 3. Work to your strengths. 4. Get experience in different legal areas. 5. Be adaptable. 6. Understand legal technology. 7. Consider your career goals. 8. Have boundaries. 9. Utilise your supervisors experience. 10. Build resilience as a lawyer.]

10 ways to be better prepared for the profession of law

1. Find a mentor

Transitioning from graduate to lawyer can be challenging. That’s why there are plenty of advantages to having a highly experienced law professional support you with practical guidance when you start your career.

A mentor can give you more confidence in your decision-making and help you view situations and challenges from a different perspective. Mentors can also open up a greater range of career opportunities you may not otherwise have access to.

Many universities offer peer mentoring and alumni mentor programs, like the University of Canberra's Career Coaching initiative, where current students can connect with graduates. There are also legal communities and mentoring associations Australia-wide that coordinate legal mentors for law graduates.

2. Network

Building connections with other industry law professionals is essential for a new lawyer. Whether it’s for sharing knowledge or staying on top of the latest industry trends, making short and long-term relationships through networking is a priority when moving into the law profession.

It also helps to build your communication skills with a wide range of people. Kate Timmerman, an Australian attorney now working at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in New York, agrees.

“A day in the life of a lawyer can sometimes be challenging, so just being able to rely on other people and have a support network — those mentors and peers and personal relationships — that’s what supports you when you start out.”

She adds, “I think knowing people and being able to build a network has been really beneficial for me. It’s nice to know people around you who do the same thing as you, so they’re relatable and a good resource to draw on for advice.”

3. Discover your strengths and work on them

Research has shown that people who focus on developing their strengths grow faster than when trying to improve their weaknesses. And they are also less stressed, more engaged, confident and creative at work.

Identifying your strengths is a step towards self-awareness, a critical trait amongst most successful lawyers. Asking yourself why do you want to be a lawyer and asking for feedback from trusted colleagues, mentors, and peers can be an effective way to start your self-awareness journey as a new lawyer. Focusing on what you do well brings a better sense of fulfilment to your work.

Georgia Briggs, a principal solicitor at Briggs Law, notes “A really important thing to remind yourself of when you're meeting a client, doing something for the first time like appearing in court, is that nerves are not only normal — they are appropriate. Nerves are a great indicator of your strengths and show that you have genuine care for the work that you're doing and its impact. 

4. Diversify your area of practice 

Ms Briggs recommends those looking to break into the law profession to “keep working on getting as much experience as you can, across as many areas as you can” and to try different areas of law early in your career. As a student of the University of Canberra’s online Juris Doctor, you can explore various electives to gain as much practical experience as possible and find what areas of law you enjoy.

Electives available to students to help diversify their Juris Doctor degree include: 

  • Law, Innovation and Technologies
  • Law Reform and Social Change
  • Human Rights Law
  • Intellectual Property
  • Workplace Law in Context
  • Negotiation

5. Be adaptable

In a world of constant change, agility and adaptability are essential skills for a lawyer. The pandemic highlighted the importance of adaptability across all industries globally. According to McKinsey, “Adaptability helps us maintain deliberate calm under pressure and display curiosity amid change.”

When asked what she attributes her success to, Ms Timmerman says, “I think my success comes down to the ability to be adaptable and agile in the market. The law is always changing, the way we practise is changing, and the way we work has changed since the pandemic. There have also been so many advances in AI. So it’s about embracing those changes and working on using technology to our advantage.”

She adds, “There have been some great changes because of technological advancements recently. The ability for more people with varying lifestyles to be very successful lawyers because they can now work from home — which, historically, wasn’t an option — is a real win for our profession.”

6. Sharpen your digital skills for the future

Legal tech investment is rising. Analytics, compliance, document automation and legal research are just some of the legal tech categories set to trend.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, large organisations will require relationships with more than four legal technology vendors. Widespread disruption has forced legal departments and law firms to prioritise legal tech and automation to manage increasingly complex demands.

In the future, lawyers will need to operate sophisticated, expert systems to deliver better customer outcomes, so adopting technology effectively in their day-to-day work is a must.

7. Consider how a law degree can help you reach your goals

“Everyone’s pathways are different,” says Ms Briggs. “Your pathway doesn’t need to look like the person next to you. A law degree can lead you to a successful career as a law professional. But It can also be a fantastic foundation for a range of different careers in many different sectors. I know many law graduates who have moved into successful careers outside of law.”

A law degree, such as the online Juris Doctor from the University of Canberra, teaches you skills such as critical thinking, communication, research and complex analytics, which are transferable to various industries and careers and highly valued. Within the law profession, you could find yourself working as a:

  • solicitor
  • barrister
  • in-house counsel
  • government lawyer
  • public notary.

And as any of the above, you could find yourself working in a:

  • private practice
  • sole practice
  • small to large firm
  • courthouse
  • community legal centre.

8. Have boundaries

Healthy boundary setting is crucial for new lawyers and provides a framework for a healthy relationship between lawyers, their clients and their work.

“Set goals for yourself outside of work,” suggests Ms Timmerman. While self-care looks different for everyone, taking time away from work to do something you enjoy can reduce the risk of burnout and improve your work/life balance in your first year.

More and more law firms are taking proactive measures to embed a culture of wellbeing in the workplace in recent years, which is a step in the right direction for an industry that can be prone to high stress.

9. Use your supervisor’s expertise

“When you’re an early practitioner, there is an obligation that you are supervised by an experienced law professional. So ask questions, ask for help and always clarify,” says Ms Briggs.

Relying on trusted people, like a mentor or colleague, and asking for feedback is a growth-mindset approach to learning in your first year and beyond.

The Law Council of Australia also offers resources and guidelines for the benefit of the broader legal community.

 10. Become a resilient lawyer

Post-pandemic, one word that comes up time and time again is ‘resilience’. Resiliency is a critical skill for all professionals working in high-pressure environments. Research from the Australian Journal of Clinical Education suggests that the benefit of resilience extends beyond the personal to the professional and resilient lawyers can be more productive and could produce better legal outcomes. 

Developing resilience helps legal practitioners in tackling challenging everyday hassles, including managing workload, dealing with opposing counsel, the loss of a significant client, and/or a personal setback or stress.          

Are you ready to make a difference?

Law professionals across all fields play a vital role in our society — in the administration of justice, providing a voice for those in need, and upholding equity and fairness. Between 2020 and 2021, Australian lawyers provided almost 642,000 hours of pro bono work out in the community.

“Statistics from the early days of the public health crisis found 49 per cent of Australian businesses relied upon external advisors, including lawyers, in the face of uncertainty caused by the pandemic,” says Law Council of Australia president Dr Jacoba Brasch QC.

Want to pursue a career in law? Speak to one of our Student Advisers. They’ll be there to support you and answer any questions you may have. Alternatively, apply today and gain the power to make a difference as an ethical legal professional.

Related study options