Experience vs Academics - The great battle

Batman vs The Joker, Trump vs Clinton, Kanye vs Taylor Swift... the great battles of history all come down to which side of the fence you sit on. The same can be said for the Experience vs Academics debate that constantly rages around what is most valuable in people's careers.

Like a great battle, experience vs academics has it's champions. Just like all conflicts, usually there is no clear winner, and once the fog of war lifts, the truth of who is the greater is a matter of opinion.

So who does LawLancer side with?

On the side of experience. And here's why.

For as long as we can remember people were rocking up to law schools telling anyone who would listen that ONLY grades mattered. Not whether you had commercial experience, whether you had worked in firms before, whether you had no interpersonal skills. Grades were key. It made sense for a lot of them as well. Grades are THE KEY, for a lot of bigger firms, that unlocks the next step in the process. Without the key, you don't get in the door... sounds like a great argument for grades right? Well no. See, as much as you may think the biggest game in town are massive firms, actually the majority of lawyers (over 80%), find their way to smaller firms or sole practice. SHOCKING right? Did your head just explode? So actually, while grades make a difference at the top end of town, for the rest of us there are many more factors that come into play.

Having great grades doesn't mean you will enjoy being a lawyer

This one is a doozy, and it might shock you, but we'll bet good money that the top 10% at your law school don't hang around these top firms beyond 5 years anyway. So if you want to be a lawyer long term, there seems to be more of a correlation with people who get practical experience than simply great grades.

Having great grades isn't necessary for all jobs

If you were shocked before this one will really knock you down. Lots of people don't become lawyers who get law degrees...

Many, many people go into a myriad of other jobs that are less focused on academics. So maybe you enjoy law but intend on doing something else. That's cool. Clearly, getting some interesting experience in that space will serve you far more than how well you do on your Torts exam.

Experience means more than just paper shuffling

The type of experience we are talking about is not simply being a paper shuffler. It isn't even just experience working in a firm. It is variety and breadth of experience that gives you the skills and exposure to think through problems, and deal with them. It is the experience of having a taste for things that others haven't (and working out if you like that). It's being worldly and grown up and responsible and all of those horrendous things we have avoided for so long. Experience breeds street smarts, not simply book smarts.

But aren't book smarts important?

Yes. But just about everyone who studies law has that anyway. News flash... everyone's pretty smart. So if you want to stand out, wouldn't having more experience and practical skills under your belt make a lot of sense?

So what do I do about it?

Give up studying!! Yassssssssss!!!

Umm no.

You have to find a balance. While we are sitting on the side of experience, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Getting strong grades gives you more options. Just don't do that at the expense of doing other work, trying that interesting clerkship, participating in a hackathon, or starting your own side hustle. Seriously, you're an adult (gulp!!), no one can tell you the “right” way, that's for you to figure out. Just don't put blinkers on to the reality that you do need to be out there, taking action and trying things throughout your studies.

Some practical options

  • Do lots of competitions to get some different experience working with others and under pressure.

  • Take advantage of whatever work experience you can get in law firms. Try big firms, small firms and anything in between. Got your heart set on corporate law? Go do some work for a criminal barrister. Seriously, variety is the spice of life.

  • If you're creative, find a way to bring it into your studies or keep it in your life. The future of law is design thinking, creative outcomes and people who can think differently.

  • Invest in valuable skills. Love technology? Do a coding course. Love words? Learn to write great copy. Love languages? Mandarin speaking lawyers have always been in demand. Back what you enjoy and build skills that are valuable in business, not just law.

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