a brief guide to plt work experience
If you’re preparing for a career as a lawyer, the prospect of completing your Practical Legal Training (PLT) can be as daunting as it is exhilarating – after all, it marks the first tangible, practical legal work of your surely soon-to-be astonishing legal career.
The PLT coursework requirement can evoke a cautious curiosity for some, while the lifelong commitment to Continuing Legal Education can seem like a distant problem to be faced by Future You. However, for many, it’s the work experience component that occupies the most space in our minds. The mere thought of it raises a number of questions: “When should I pursue it? What will I need to do? How long will it take, and what if I can’t meet the time requirements?” After all, it will be your first foray into a legal career, and you want to do it right.
Fortunately, The College of Law’s Career Hub has prepared a brief guide to help you make your work experience work for you.
where to begin
There’s no point making any bones about it: finding a work placement can be a challenge. Unless you can count yourself among the top 10% of law applicants who score corporate clerkships, you will need to be prepared to work for free, at least for a period. Indeed, even as a volunteer it can be difficult to find a work experience position. For this reason, it pays to plan ahead.
You don’t need to wait until you start your PLT subjects to start doing work experience – you can complete up to 60 days prior to starting PLT, while you’re still doing your law degree (or equivalent). You can then complete the rest as soon as you begin your PLT.
The bottom line is this: it’s never too early to start preparing for your work experience. Research different law firms and their policies regarding practical legal training, then compile your results into a database which details each firm’s entry requirements and ranks them in order of your preference. This will give you an idea of what you need to achieve to undertake practical legal training at your preferred firm.
How long will it take?
As most of us complete our work experience in a volunteer capacity, it can be a drain on time and resources to commit to a lengthy practical legal training placement. Even so, what choice do you have? The length of your work experience is set in stone…right? Wrong. To cater to those who simply can’t commit to a lengthy placement, The College of Law offers two options for the work experience component of your PLT. The first offers the standard requirement of 75 days’ worth of work experience, while the second involves a blended approach of a 25-day work experience program combined with a Clinical Experience module. The latter option, which is exclusive to The College of Law Australia, costs $1370 and is covered by FEE-HELP.
when is the best time to complete work experience?
So if you can complete work experience earlier, is that the best option? When is the best time to undertake your PLT placement? As you might expect, there are pros and cons to getting an early start. On the one hand, postponing your work experience will give you more time to explore your options and complete more law subjects, thereby broadening your familiarity with different areas of law, and giving you a better idea of where you might like to focus your work experience.
However, the benefits of an early work experience placement are myriad. For starters, a third year PLT placement will ensure you don’t need to compete against a horde of classmates during the fourth year clerkship rush. Furthermore, gaining experience earlier in your degree can give you better exposure to the profession, refine your idea of what legal areas in which you might want to practise, and allow you to network your way into the law job you really want.
make yourself useful to employers
The motivation behind PLT is to expose law students to the practical challenges of daily legal life. For employers, however, this often means compromising on working with a more experienced lawyer who can work well and autonomously, bringing in clients and keeping them happy from day one, to explaining how to write a professional email, or conduct yourself in meetings, or draft a pleading.
If you understand this compromise, you can, as a work experience student, look for ways to minimise your learning curve and make yourself as useful to your employer as possible. For example, be proactive – aim to anticipate whatever is causing your employer the most stress on any given day, and offer help, however minor. If they need research done, do it well, and ask your questions early and in one go, or via a self-contained email. Often this has much less to do with legal work than you might think; it’s about being the helpful assistant to make your employer look good, and make their days easier.
find friendly, connected mentors
The legal profession, like any industry, can be welcoming or dismissive. It’s always helpful to find friendly, well-connected mentors – even a law student a few years ahead of you – to give you some tips, moral support and perhaps even jobs, projects or other opportunities. Half of all available jobs are never advertised, which makes finding lawyers senior to you all the more worthwhile, in terms of accessing the unseen, referral-only job market.