Law students used to be able to have confidence in their prospects of getting a steady job as a practising lawyer after graduation, but these days it’s a little harder.
Job market figures show that there is a glut of law graduates and not enough jobs for them, which is forcing graduates to look beyond the law and find careers in other occupations.
As the number of graduates from undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees has grown, the number of firms taking on recent graduate lawyers rather than experienced lawyers has decreased, leaving many graduates having to re-think their options after they leave university.
According to statistics from Graduate Careers Australia, the number of law graduates who find full time work has decreased from 96% in 2001 to 83% in 2012.
Added to this, decreases in the growth in demand for lawyers due to the global financial crisis and other economic issues has meant that many graduates have had to find alternatives and look at other options after law school than working as a practising lawyer.
Are there too many law students?
Government figures published in the Australian Financial Review show that the overall number of law students has doubled over the past 10 years, with an estimated 12,000 graduates entering the job market in an industry which only employs 60,000.
This has led to fierce competition among law graduates who have to battle it out for the limited number of graduate lawyer positions there are available.
Much of the oversupply of law graduates is believed to be due to increased numbers of people undertaking postgraduate law qualifications.
According to figures published by the Australian Financial Review, the number of students taking undergraduate degrees has risen slowly but steadily by around 26% between 2001 and 2012, while postgraduate law students increased by a massive 330%.
The number of law graduates coupled with the number of available positions in commercial law firms means that a significant portion of those who graduate with legal qualifications won’t be able to work as lawyers in a law firm.
With competition so fierce, most law firms, especially the big ones, have their pick of the highest performing graduates and experienced practitioners, leaving the others with more limited options.
What is the solution?
Calls for universities to limit the number of students they accept have so far not received a response.
In other disciplines like journalism and dentistry where an oversupply of students has caused problems for graduates, universities have limited their intake.
Law is a lucrative degree for universities, as they can charge high fees and it is relatively inexpensive to teach, factors which may be behind the failure to place limits on student intake.
There have also been calls for universities and law schools to give students a realistic expectation of their chances of employment after graduation, and to provide alternative career possibilities for law students who might not be able to find employment as Sydney lawyers after they finish their studies.
What other options are available to law graduates?
The good news is that law graduates are sought after in many other industries and there are plenty of opportunities available to those who are prepared to consider working in finance, government, media, politics and business or other industries.
In terms of general skills, a law degree equips students with high levels of communication and analytical skills as well as proving their dedication and commitment, which makes them highly valuable as potential employees.
There have been suggestions that the format of law degrees be altered to make them more general and less specific to practising law as a vocation.
If you are currently studying law, it’s important to be realistic about your options when you graduate.
There are still plenty of commercial law firms hiring graduates, but there may also be other career options that you might not have considered.
A law degree can open up many opportunities, not just as a practising lawyer, and graduates should be aware of all the possibilities rather than just sticking with the traditional path.