The study of Law can open up a wide range of career opportunities, not only in legal practice but in areas such as policy, business consulting and advocacy.
Through the study of legal concepts, theory, principles, legislative process and legal interpretation, Law students learn to compare, contrast, and cross-reference information. They use critical analysis and judgement in their research and preparation. They also develop strong communication and language skills to be able to advise clients or to persuade others in legal proceedings or in a wide range of non-legal roles.
Roles and career pathways
Law graduates have many career options, both within the legal profession and outside it. Students can focus on specific areas of study such as commercial, tax, criminal, indigenous, human rights or family law, however this does not mean they necessarily go on to work in these areas. The study of Law complements other disciplines, particularly commerce, science, and the humanities.
To practice as a barrister or solicitor you must first complete a Bachelor of Laws degree then a practical professional legal studies course; be admitted to the High Court of New Zealand as a barrister and solicitor and apply for and hold a current practising certificate issued by a district law society. Once admitted, a lawyer can work as a barrister or a solicitor. For more information see New Zealand Law Society.
Barristers work mainly in courts or tribunals presenting evidence, making submissions on behalf of their clients, or representing their interests in criminal trials, or Family Court proceedings, for example. Solicitors provide general legal advice over a range of specialised areas, including property, tax, Māori land law or resource management. Lawyers can work in large commercial firms, often eventually specialising in one area of practice, while others practice in small to medium sized or boutique specialist firms or as in-house lawyers in public or private sector organisations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Many Law students choose not to practise law and there are multiple career pathways outside of law practice in all sectors. A few examples are policy analysis and advice, foreign affairs and trade, management consulting, arts administration, business development, content development and editing.
Where Law graduates work
As well as in law firms, the courts, or legal roles in private and public sector organisations, Law graduates are found in almost any kind of jobs across every sector. Here are a few examples of where recent Law graduates work:
- Bell Gully
- Buddle Findlay
- Simpson Grierson
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)
- Ministry of Justice
Build relevant skills and experience
Part-time work and volunteering during study, such as justice or youth work, can help you to develop valuable connections and relevant work experience. Community Law - Wellington and Hutt Valley provides free legal advice to people who need it most throughout New Zealand. Student volunteers gain some practical experience giving legal assistance while increasing clients’ access to justice.
Larger law firms have summer clerk programmes that enable you to gain experience and progress to law clerk roles after completing your degree. It is useful to explore opportunities in small to medium law firms across New Zealand. These firms can also take on summer clerks and graduate law clerks and this widens your chances of finding work. The WFHSS Internship course run by the Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences helps develop leadership skills and practical workplace experience. Programmes such as Wellington Plus, and Wellington International Leadership Programme (WILP) offer opportunities to gain diverse volunteer and leadership experience.
Make career connections
Making connections with individuals and groups during your degree can help you learn more about career opportunities. Leadership roles in law student organisations such as VUWLSS can lead to opportunities to connect with employers and practitioners at all levels of experience. The Young Lawyers Committee of the NZ Law Society Wellington branch holds a number of career events for students and graduate lawyers, including a Bridging the Gap mentoring programme, that matches young lawyers and law students as mentors and mentees and arranges workplace visits. Other groups such as Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa (The Māori Law Society) and Wellington Women Lawyers' Association (WWLA) and In-house Lawyers Association of New Zealand (ILANZ) also have regular networking events and student membership. The Aotearoa Legal Workers' Union represents the interests of student and graduate workers in the legal industry and are also a useful contact.
The Institute for Governance and Policy Studies is a public policy think tank based at the Wellington School of Business and Government and offers students and graduates access to a range of learning and networking events. Professional associations such as Institute of Public Administrators New Zealand (IPANZ) have a New Professionals group, and Wellington Young Professionals can also be helpful if you are exploring work possibilities in and outside of legal practice. The Alumni as Mentors programme for final-year students also helps enhance your connections and employability while studying.