Careers Guide

Your Legal Future


Law students are discovering that the traditional route of landing a summer job at a law firm and practising as a solicitor is only one of many ways to begin an exciting and rewarding career in law. A law degree, combined with another undergraduate degree is arguably as valuable a degree as one could attain. Employers hold in high regard the reading, writing, problem solving, and teamwork skills that law graduates can offer. A law degree will open many doors and not all of them will necessarily involve the practice of law itself.


Private Practice is a popular traditional career for law graduates. The work of a solicitor is quite varied. Solicitors provide legal advice, conduct negotiations, draft legal documents, and represent clients in court proceedings. Solicitors also deal with the public on a regular basis so excellent communication skills are essential. Being able to explain the law to clients and advocate on their behalf are valuable skills that an aspiring solicitor should be prepared to master.


Working as a solicitor for government agencies or local authorities is another option. Government lawyers provide advice to government departments, draft legislation and appear in court on behalf of the Crown. Other options for government lawyers include working for the Waitangi Tribunal, the New Zealand Police, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


Barristers are lawyers who provide specialist advisory or advocacy services. These people typically love to win an argument and are energized by litigation. Graduates who are quick thinkers, persuasive and capable of attaining a firm understanding of the rules of evidence may make excellent barristers. Public speaking skills are essential for this line of work. In New Zealand, Barristers are usually engaged once advocacy before a court is needed by the client (including litigation). A Barrister has the right to speak in higher courts, whereas other lawyers have more limited access. A medical metaphor is commonly used to describe the difference between Barristers and Solicitors: a Solicitor is like a general practitioner (so they are the regular point of contact for a client); while a Barrister is like a specialist consultant. A client is only referred to a Barrister if specialist skills are required.


Corporate Law is an attractive option for detail-focused graduates with an aptitude for technical legal work. There are many jobs available for corporate lawyers in large companies and banks. Lawyers who succeed in the corporate world are typically ambitious and extroverted and can work well under pressure. Billable hours make corporate law a high pressure career option.


Working in a community legal centre is also a pathway for lawyers interested in using their knowledge and skills to help people directly. Community lawyers assist members of the public who are in trouble with the police, their landlords, or their employees.


Similarly, Legal Aid work can be a very rewarding field of work for graduates with a passion for social justice. Legal aid lawyers guide disadvantaged people through the justice system. Patience and highly developed communication skills are essential for this line of work.


Policy work is suited to law graduates who are interested in contributing to the improvement of the legal system. This line of work involves research, writing, and assisting in directing the implementation of important activities which government departments carry out. Policy professionals can find work in law reform, government, universities, industry, and commercial and community lobby groups; or as ministerial advisers.


Alternative dispute resolution is an interesting option for creative law graduates with outstanding communication skills who prefer to work in a non-traditional environment. Lawyers with minds that can easily see two sides of an argument and who enjoy resolving disputes and seeing paths for others may be natural mediators or conciliators.


Law graduates who enjoy research and study may be well suited to a career in academia . Academics enjoy flexible working hours and, compared to the demands of private practice or corporate law, a relatively relaxed working environment. However, the demands of lecturing and publishing articles can be quite stressful.


Strong written and analytical skills and the ability to meet set deadlines are essential for a career in legal publishing . Legal editors often specialize in particular areas of law. Also, employers recognize that the research, and investigative and writing skills that students acquire in studying law can make them excellent journalists.


Law and justice courses taught in high schools and colleges are becoming increasingly popular. Teaching can be a rewarding career for law graduates with high level communications skills and a genuine interest in imparting their knowledge to young people and being a positive influence.


Also, a career as a law librarian may suit organized graduates who thrive on legal research and assisting others to find information.


Finally, graduates with a curious and creative mind may enjoy working as a professional legal researcher. Legal researchers provide specialist legal research, writing, and analytic support to practising lawyers and government legal departments. They search cases, statutes, and other sources of law; draft legal memoranda, briefs, and submissions. They research and analyze legal policy options and research facts relevant to litigation, such as information on products, litigants, companies, and expert witnesses. Being a professional legal researcher requires much more than knowledge of modern research tools and techniques. Most legal research is about thinking creatively, drawing relationships, and being persistent.


This non-exhaustive list of career options is a useful reference point for students who are contemplating their future legal career and are wondering where to begin the job hunt. Students who have neared completion of their studies have probably narrowed down their interests and discovered their strengths. This self-analysis will help guide career decisions. It is comforting to know that legal skills are highly transferable. The directions that a career in the law can take graduates are really only limited by a law graduate’s imagination, persistence and his or her willingness to work harmoniously with others.  


Other Options


The following list is a selection from a 2005 survey on the careers that New Zealand law graduates pursue:

  • Administration and Marketing Assistant;

  • Accountancy;

  • Customs Officer;

  • Intelligence Analyst;

  • Immigration Consultant.


  • Of course, another common option for LLB graduates is to undertake further study to enhance their Bachelor’s degree. Master of Laws (LLM) programmes are offered at Auckland, Victoria, Canterbury, Waikato and Otago Universities. More information on these, and on international postgraduate programmes, can be found at the LLM guide online .



Summer Clerkships


Every year many law firms recruit students to work at their firm during the summer. The number of positions available differs from year to year, and selection procedures are generally fairly rigorous. However, attaining a summer clerk position can offer considerable opportunities for educational and professional development, and may lead to fulltime employment in the future.

Check out cvmail for an easy way to keep track of applications for summer clerkship positions at the big law firms.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the larger firms that participate in this summer recruitment process:





Anderson Lloyd

Offices in Christchurch, Dunedin & Queenstown.

Resource Management, Corporate & Commercial, Litigation, Property & Personal Client Services.

Programme begins in mid-November.

Anthony Harper

Offices in Auckland & Christchurch.

Financial Services, Construction & Infrastructure, Property Development, Retail, Retirement Villages, Technology, Manufacturing.


Bell Gully

Offices in Auckland & Wellington.

Banking & Finance, Property, Corporate, Employment, Government, Insolvency, Technology, Litigation, Tax.

Programme begins in mid-November.

Applications open in March.

Buddle Findlay

Offices in Auckland, Wellington & Christchurch.

Banking & Finance, Company & Commercial, Dispute Resolution & Litigation, Education, Employment, Health, e-commerce, Infrastructure, Intellectual Property, Media, Public, Property, Resource Management, Taxation.

Applications open in March.

Chapman Tripp

Offices in Auckland, Wellington & Christchurch.

Competition, Corporate & Commercial, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Planning & Resource Management, Finance, Government, Intellectual Property, Investment, Litigation, Trusts, Property, Insolvency, Tax, Technology.

Applications open in March.

DLA Phillips Fox

Offices in Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney & Wellington.

Administrative, Finance, Renewable Energy, Competition, Commercial, Corporate, Forestry, Government, Health, Human Rights, Information Technology, Insurance, Intellectual Property, International Trade, Litigation, Privacy, Taxation.

Programme begins in mid-November.

Applications open in March.

Kensington Swan

Offices in Auckland & Wellington.

Small-Medium Businesses, Government & Associations, Individuals, Corporate Entities, International Clients.

Applications open in March.

Lane Neave

Offices in Christchurch & Queenstown.

ACC, Banking & Finance, Competition, Conveyancing, Electricity, Family, Franchising, Intellectual Property, Public, Sport, Wills, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Company & Commercial, Education, Employment, Fisheries, Health/Medico-Legal, Insolvency, Litigation, Resource Management, Trusts.


Minter Ellison Rudd Watts

Offices in NZ: Auckland & Wellington.

Biotechnology, Antitrust, Finance, Banking, Climate Change, Commercial Litigation, Competition, Corporate, Education, Electricity, Employment, Environment, Government, Health, Infrastructure, Insurance, Intellectual Property, Trade, Privacy, Property, Securities, Sport, Tax, Tourism.

Applications open in March.

Programme runs between November & February.

Russell McVeagh

Offices in Wellington & Auckland.

Competition, Corporate, Employment, Finance, Litigation, Property, Resource Management, Public, Tax.

Applications open in March.

Simpson Grierson

Offices in Auckland, Wellington & Christchurch.

Banking & Finance, Biotechnology, Climate Change, Commercial, Competition, Employment, Energy, Forestry, Franchising, Government, Health, Insurance, Intellectual Property, Trade, Property, Resource Management, Superannuation, Tax, Technology, Trusts, Wills, Estates.

Applications open in March.



Other Graduate Programmes


Admittance to the New Zealand Bar


If you wish to be admitted to the bar in New Zealand, you must have completed both a Bachelor of Laws (including a course on Ethics) and a professional studies course. You will need to be admitted to the bar if you wish to practise as either a barrister or solicitor. Two professional studies courses are offered in New Zealand: one by the Institute of Professional Legal Studies; and the other by the College of Law.


Job Hunting Skills


In today’s competitive job market law graduates are in a prime position. Employers value the analytical, research and writing skills that law graduates can bring to the workplace.

The key to landing a great job is your ability to sell yourself to potential employers. Employers are looking for graduates who are adaptable, hard-working and who have strong communication skills and a desire for life-long learning. The following web sites provide information about the skills that employers are looking for in graduates:


Recruitment Firms




Useful Contacts


Student Organisations:

  • Auckland University Law Students’ Society: +64 9 3737599 ext 85603

  • Victoria University Law Students’ Society

  • University of Canterbury Law Students’ Association: +64 3 3642987 ext 8816

  • Email:

  • Society of Otago University Law Students

  • Email:


  • Legal Aid Offices:


  • Whangarei: +64 9 4304490

  • Auckland: +64 9 4885440

  • Waitakere: +64 9 8379860

  • Manukau: +64 9 2627750

  • Hamilton: +64 7 8346124

  • Rotorua: +64 7 3501090

  • New Plymouth: +64 6 7590451

  • Napier: +64 6 8337750

  • Wellington: +64 4 4729040

  • Christchurch: +64 3 3636500

  • Dunedin: +64 3 4775035


  • Community Legal Centres:


  • Youthlaw: +64 9 309 6967

  • Waitakere (Auckland): +64 9 8352130

  • Hamilton: +64 7 8390770

  • Wellington: +64 4 4992928

  • Canterbury: +64 3 3666870

  • Dunedin: +64 3 4749521


Useful Web Links


Recommended Reading


  • Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky, Should You Really Be A Lawyer?: The Guide To Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School , Lawyer Avenue Press, 2004.

  • National Association for Law Placement, The Official Guide to Legal Specialities , Harcourt Legal & Professional Publications, 2000.

Sources Used


  • Faculty of Law 2009 Handbook , Faculty of Law, University of Otago.

  • Careers in the Law Industry , New Zealand Law Students’ Association Incorporated.

  • Career View , Victoria University of Wellington, 2006.