Not quite sure what you want to do with your Law degree? In the flurry of recruitment activities at the beginning of our academic year, it is easy to get the impression that there are a narrow range of highly-contested options if you are a law student seeking internships or a graduate. And yes, finding the work you enjoy using your amazing skills you have can be a rigorous and competitive process. But we know from experience and Law grads end up in all kinds of places!

It’s not too late to check out the Careers in Focus series for Law students, where you can explore alternatives to working for a large commercial firm. If you’re a Law student, you are better off coming along, asking questions and meeting these inspiring grads and more senior (but very approachable) practitioners in the flesh. Stay after the panel session for a chat and delicious food. Check CareerHub for details.

The first Careers in Focus session was Law graduates working in the public sector. We met a Judges Clerk, a Foreign Policy Officer, a Policy Analyst, the Director of the Government Disputes Resolution Centre and a senior solicitor in a crown agency. All real, passionate people with an awesome range of skills and experience. Here’s a snapshot of the panel session:

Working in the public sector – what is that and what is it really like?

Policy is a bit different to practicing as a lawyer. This can mean going from little operational issues right through to what the operational framework is/systemic. It’s exciting working with senior managers or Minister office advising on how to “land” an issue. Or being on official’s bench in parliament – handing advice to Ministers while in the house.

What are employers looking for?

Government agencies don’t want cookie-cutter people: that you bring your whole self to the role. You must also be able to deal with ambiguity and change. That said, there is still a way to go with equity. For example Maori and Pasifika need to be worked with from the get-go, at the earliest stages of policy development or programme design. Changing the demographics of the public sector can enable that to happen. The Tupu Tai Government internship programme is an excellent way to government departments to access a pipeline of Pasifika talent.

How did you get into your role?

I wanted to change the world – I had (have) a sense of justice and contribute in a way that is helpful and meaningful. I started out in the NGO sector, but found that by the time a policy got to me, I got had had very little say. Government is where I can  have influence on policy.

I wish I’d explored more and not made assumptions about courses. As a Judges Clerk, it has been quite funny how interesting I have found civil and commercial cases. They still have the human connections that are important to me.

The feedback on my first attempt at applying for a foreign policy officer role: as a recent graduate I was too naive and black and white in my views and needed some life experience. I secured a front line role working for Inland Revenue child support clients who were often going through the worst time of their lives. I learned empathy and conflict management and this strengthened application the second time around.

Snippets of advice:

  • When applying for jobs, get on the blower. Talk to the manager advertising the job. It takes resilience – it won’t happen straight away. Stick at it.
  • However looking back on how anxious I got, I don’t think all that stress and worry was worth it (making decisions and vying for graduate positions). It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
  • I didn’t realise that those things that I was good at were a strength. I took my ability to network for granted and thought everyone could do that. But for my overseas posting interview, that’s what landed me the role. Ask your friends what they see as your strengths. What three words come to mind?
  • As recruiting managers, we recognise, and actively seek the skills and experience that make you different, that set you apart. The stuff you think doesn’t matter, especially interests. Remember we are asking “Is this the person that I want to be on our team?”
  • Then after you start, we get you writing properly. We help you with that journey from academia.
  • Learning legal writing, and developing the ability to draft legislation has also been invaluable.
  • Same with with in house legal advice, your colleagues as clients want the answer in an email , so keep it succinct.

The next blog will take a look into the world of working for a small to medium or boutique law firm. The next Careers in Focus session will be Law graduates working in criminal law; Tuesday 28th May, 5.30 pm Government Buildings Lecture Theatre 3. Expect panelists from Public Defence Service (PDS), Quay Legal, Luke Cunningham Clere and international criminal law.



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Career advice, CareerHub, Graduate jobs, Internships, Motivation, Networking, Skills development