A Puppy Lawyer is Not Just for Christmas: Helping New Lawyers Successfully Make the Transition to Professional Practice

Document Type

Issue/Research Brief/Blog

Publication Date



professional identity formation


The research reported here is a pilot project which investigated the transitionary period from study to work for entry-level lawyers. The research was designed to identify factors which may assist new lawyers in making this a successful transition.

This is crucial research. There is no similar empirical work in Australia focusing on the transition towards a legal professional. The support and endorsement of the Law Society of the Australian Capital Territory ensured that the pilot could provide some valuable preliminary data.

The design of the study consisted in tracking a small sample of newly admitted lawyers who volunteered to be followed through their first year. The sample consisted of eleven participants (4 male and 7 female) employed variously in private and public practice in the territory. Their median age was 25 years. They worked in a range of different practices – small, medium and large private firms, and government legal practices, legal aid and community legal centres.

Data was collected between 2009 and early 2011. The study used a multi-method qualitative research approach to gather information through interviews, participant observation and self-recording of daily work activity.

Data analysis showed the crucial importance of appropriate supervision and mentoring to new lawyers’ capacity to gain autonomy and competence. Also notable was new lawyers’ need to see their work as intrinsically worthwhile, either when it provided a direct public service or more indirectly. Pro bono work was important to them. New lawyers were also keenly alert to the real ethical climate of the practice in which they worked. The way a practice treated its staff (both professional and support) was seen as a reliable indicator of its ethical culture.