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Law will take you anywhere

Updated: Mar 18, 2019 a final year LLB student, I have found myself deciding that practising law isn’t something I am certain I want to do.”

Alessandra Akhund examined how transferable the skills from a law degree really are.

I don’t think It will come as a great surprise that as a final year LLB student, I have found myself deciding that practising law isn’t something I am certain I want to do. In fact, many people pursuing a law degree seem to be moving away from the idea of actually being a lawyer. The wonderful, incredible, fantastic, amazing thing about a law degree, however, is that it doesn’t mean you have to be a lawyer – it will help you pursue anything else you want to do. At least, that’s what the lecturer in my ‘Lawyers, Justice, and Ethics’ class assured us, before mentioning that the workforce was oversaturated with law graduates and less than half of us would end up working in the legal sector. Or what my friends, fresh off the backs of clerkships and graduate jobs at the Big Six preened so sympathetically, kindly, and slightly patronisingly. My mother even, my beautiful mother who can never be wrong about anything, fell prey to this: “The skills you’ve taken from your degree are so transferrable; any job will love it on a resume.” I’ve trusted this woman with my life and here she was, echoing everybody else’s thoughts. She MUST be right.

But have we ever stopped for a minute to consider, is this actually true?

A quick Google search confirmed what everybody was saying – the skills and content that one takes from a law degree is useful in any aspect of the business world; in journalism; in finance; recruitment; public administration; education; the technology sector; politics (never forget, young law graduates, that a career in politics is a wonderful fall back that people will always think you were planning on doing the whole time). The skills you take from a law degree, I’m told, are a delightful combination of critical thinking, presentation, research skills, and problem-solving. Where can’t you go with a certification in which you’ve pulled skills from every discipline and every degree and tied them up in the neat little bow of the LLB?

The one thing that always gets me, always, is that everyone adores talking about the analytical skills you draw from a law degree. “That’s the clincher” they insist, “it’s what sets you apart from every other applicant”. But from where I stand, this isn’t holding true. I’m staring down the barrel of a mess of career opportunities, but the one staring back at me the hardest is a career in science, preferably in the field of neuroscience, which I’ve loved studying in my flexible double degree and can’t imagine giving up. How do my analytical skills make me stand out in a sea of other science students? My reasoning skills, my critical thinking skills, my research skills, my problem-solving capacities – all shared unanimously by any student that’s managed to make it through a STEM degree. In fact, all I can think that sets me apart is my presentation and negotiation capacities, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine (except in the field of academia) a way in which these would overly impress any person hiring in a STEM position. Correct me if I’m wrong, but all those wonderful ‘unique’ skills that we learn in a law degree, may in fact, not be valued in every industry. Hang on… how could this be?

I guess the assumption that ‘law can take you anywhere’ stems from the fact that law graduates generally stick to related fields if they choose not to practice law. Most graduates seem to wind up somewhere in the scope of business, management, education and the public service. Now for the sake of inclusion, I am aware that every so often someone of exceptional talent in the field of art, comedy, writing, cooking or the like, does find themselves in a law degree, and upon graduation forget they ever attended university and fly to Los Angeles to try host their own reality TV show.

Perhaps these people never touch their law degrees? But even here I have my concerns. All the actors I’ve googled who studied law at university seem to be renowned in Hollywood for their wit and cleverness, which surely cannot be exclusively attributed to their law degrees. In any case, these are people of exceptional talent and I’m choosing to exclude them from this conversation (sorry Rebel Wilson, who by the way, is UNSW alumni).

The question remains: what do you do when you realise your law degree may not be a part of your life? That your transferable skills don’t matter, and that all you’ve taken from it is a large HECS debt (bitter perspective) and heightened astuteness and social awareness (positive perspective!), which sure, might make you a more interesting conversationalist but certainly doesn’t improve your ability to analyse variants in samples using a microscope or identify and discuss abnormalities in an EEG.

Ultimately, not using your law degree upon graduation isn’t the worst problem to have, but maybe this is something to start considering. What really is the social capital of a law degree? Is it really as transferable as we all think?

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