Key Points:

About 50 per cent of law graduates don't enter legal practice, says Stephen Penk, University of Auckland Dean of Students (Law).

"At Auckland [University] the percentage is 40 per cent, which is facilitated by their having completed another university degree."

Indeed, nationally, most law students enrol in two degrees; up to 75 per cent at University of Auckland, approximately 85 per cent at Canterbury University, 80 per cent at Otago and over 50 per cent at Victoria University and Waikato University.

A significant number at Victoria University don't intend to practise law, says career development and employment manager Liz Medford. "They want the skill base for roles such as policy advising, diplomacy, international relations, community work, journalism etc."

Career Services (Manukau) Maori career consultant Dereck Paora did his law degree as a mature student, fulfilling a personal goal after previous jobs in the air force and transportation. He says law really developed his confidence and ability to process information and come up with rational and articulate responses.

"But the most important skill has been the ability to speak to people at all levels, whether talking to community groups, school students or business people. This really enhances my ability to do my job."

The loss of law graduates each year concerns fledging lawyer Rebecca Elvin, an Auckland High Court judge's clerk.

She says many students enter law school with enthusiasm and diverse goals yet end up with a fairly homogenous view of the practice of law in New Zealand and of success in the legal world.

"There seems to be a gap between valid interests and awareness of all options. For example, I think commercial law is a great option, but it is one of many, and I think commercial law information is more accessible than some other options."

Elvin is helping organise a conference next April to provide an opportunity for law students to access a broad range of potential employers. They intend having speakers on social justice, international human rights, environmental, criminal, youth and family law and politics, policy and government.

Employers are happy to employ law graduates in non-legal roles.

Ministry of Economic Development (MED) senior human resources adviser Fiona Meredith says they are interested in graduates with strong analytical thinking, problem solving, written communication and verbal communication skills.

"Law graduates have these skills, along with a basic understanding of the legal and constitutional frameworks we operate within. In some cases, depending on the role, it can be particularly helpful to have an understanding of legal issues."

Deloitte corporate financial analyst Aaron Sweet is an Otago University double commerce and law degree graduate. He intended to practise law until an internship with a law firm changed his mind.

"I realised I was more a numbers man than a words man, and I didn't find the lifestyle attractive once I'd experienced it."

He's been told his law background gives him an edge during the recruitment process.

"It means I can bring different skills to the table, such as research skills, and an understanding of legal jargon and how legal arguments are structured."

He says law also developed his analytical skills and ability to write and speak succinctly.

James Peterson is another recent commerce (accounting) and law graduate who changed his mind about law after a summer law clerk job exposed him to insolvency work which he found more interesting.

Now at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Peterson is a business recovery services associate, specialising in insolvency advice, receiverships, statutory management and liquidations.

"My legal background is very valuable. It gives me a good understanding of litigation strategies and technical legal opinions and contracts. I know how to instruct lawyers, and provide insolvency advice."

Others start in law and move on. Four years in corporate litigation in New York gave jewellery designer Rosena Sammi key entrepreneurial skills and confidence - a vital edge in marketing jewellery designs.

The Auckland University conjoint law and arts graduate says ability to communicate effectively is an indispensable skill.

"Negotiating a jewellery contract or marketing my designs are just another form of advocacy."

Ministry of Fisheries senior policy adviser Cathryn Bridge, who studied law, sociology and criminology at Victoria University, initially worked in public sector law as chief legal adviser.

She is now managing an environmental certification project - eco-labelling - to promote and improve environmental performance within New Zealand fisheries.

Law teaches you how to put a structure around an issue or problem and break it down into smaller parts, says Bridge.

"That is fundamentally what legal practice is about and you can use those skills with any issue or problem.

"The trick is to be able to stand back and see if there are any other different ways of looking at this."

Project management appeals to Bridges because it is positive and proactive.


* Law degrees are offered at University of Auckland, Waikato University, Victoria University (Wellington), Canterbury University and Otago University.

* All universities, except Waikato, limit entry at second year to between 100 and 300 places, depending on the university.