Back in 2010 when I was applying for clerkships, I had little knowledge of the corporate law world. None of my friends had gone down this path, but I’d heard that it’s a “good thing to do”, it would look good on my resume, and that it would open doors for me down the path. So I threw my hat into the ring, with little knowledge of where it would lead me.
Fast forward a few years, and I knew that the career path I had chosen wasn’t for me. Some people thrive in corporate law, but I wasn’t one of them.
Jerome Doraisamy also learned the hard way. As a young law student and junior lawyer, he pushed himself to his physical and mental limits – undertaking a double degree, working as a paralegal, volunteering as the Vice President of his University’s Law Student’s Society – until it all came crashing down. After being admitted as a solicitor in New South Wales, Jerome was diagnosed with severe clinical depression.
In an incredibly brave move, Jerome has detailed his challenges and learnings in his first book, The Wellness Doctrines. To be completely honest, when I started reading Jerome’s story I felt quite emotional; he has created exactly the resource that I (and every other law student and young lawyer) needed to read.
Did you know that at least one in three legal professionals suffers from depression?
This powerful book really tackles mental health in the legal industry head on, and includes case studies from academics, managing partners, lawyers, graduates and students. Covering issues like pessimism, perfectionism, competitiveness, the tough job market and balance, The Wellness Doctrines is a smart and holistic resource, and I urge you to read it for practical steps and insights it offers to help you take charge of your wellbeing.
I was so thrilled when Jerome agreed to let me publish an extract on Career Chronicles. The following piece is about finding the right job for you, which is highly relevant to all young law students and lawyers (and graduates in other professions too!).
Without further ado, here’s an extract from Jerome’s book The Wellness Doctrines.
The Wellness Doctrines
Having fulfilling, revitalising work is considered a critically important component of recovery and wellbeing – even more so than cognitive behaviour therapy and medication. Therefore, you must find work that satisfies you and makes you happy! Finding such work, however, can be harder than one might hope.
A common gripe for students and graduates is that law schools, careers sites, and fairs place too strong of an emphasis on advertising and/or advocating for corporate and commercial law careers, at the expense of other vocational paths that may better cater to the broader cohort of law students. This gripe is not necessarily unfounded – yet it is also not entirely a situation in which blame can be assigned to any party or even a group of parties. Law firms, generally speaking, have a greater fiscal capacity to promote and offer internships and employment opportunities, as well as the ability to sponsor law student society and/or on-campus events, when many not-for-profit government and other public interest organisations do not have the means to do the same. Consequently, the average law student feels that attaining a summer clerkship, securing graduate employment with a law firm and/or being chosen as a judge’s tipstaff or associate, is the be all and end all.
This impression may be inaccurate, but it is persistent and widespread; and, as such, a significant number of law students and graduates find themselves opting for career paths that are inconsistent with their personalities, ambitions and/ or talents. As a result, these individuals put themselves at risk of not being able to attain the very job that they barely wanted in the first place. It is not a stretch to subsequently discern how issues of depression, psychological distress and anxiety can manifest within law students and young lawyers as they face their own existential crises in the aftermath of a demanding and competitive tertiary experience.
Of course, this does not have to be the case. A former dean of a major Australian law school advises:
“Be open-minded. There are so many jobs out there [in which you can] use your law degree. Even within the practice of law, there are so many niche things you can do.”
Australian Law Students’ Association (ALSA):
“ALSA believes that a career driven by passion will prove to be far more rewarding than a career driven by prestige or the promises of a high remuneration. In whatever career path law students ultimately choose, they must remember to find a balance between their work and their life commitments and to not forget the importance of protecting their health and wellbeing.”
There are a myriad of vocational paths that a graduate lawyer can go down, and a wide range of professional skills that can be utilised as a result of studying law. “Lucie” notes that:
“No one ever found happiness doing what others thought they should do. Corporate law, for example, is definitely not for everyone. The idea that one specific type of job will suit all 350- odd people graduating from an annual university is ludicrous. A law degree should be recognised for what it used to be – an incredibly good grounding for an otherwise highly academic and industrious student (to open doors, but not necessarily just to law firms).”
So don’t go down a certain path if it’s not for you. But if you do want to pursue a particular career path in law, you need to be sure that you are on top of your personal, emotional and professional wellbeing, so that you are equipped to handle whatever circumstances are thrown your way. It is also important that you listen to law students and lawyers who have come before you (i.e. how their legal careers unfolded). “Robert James” discusses one of the most famous Australian jurists in recent history – The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG.
“Quite a few law students choose to follow a path that’s imposed upon them by others, or even by themselves – by their own expectations about what they should do, but all paths in the law field contribute to personal and professional growth and society, so these individuals shouldn’t necessarily feel that by not taking a job at a prestigious law firm, it is the end of their legal careers. For many, including Justice Kirby, who wasn’t offered a graduate position at a big law firm, it opens other doors. I think that law students should choose a career path that suits their interests and their personalities, and not feel compelled to follow a path that has been set for them by others, or by their own expectations.”
The Wellness Doctrines is available online in paperback and hardbook here, and selected retailers such as Dymocks and the Co-op Bookshop. Thanks again to Jerome for sharing his story and creating such a valuable resource.
(Image credit Nikki To, illustrations by Sam Moore)