I’d like to take a shot at untangling the confusion of what “work experience” means when looking for professional opportunities, specifically within the legal market in South Africa.
Post Qualification Experience, referred to as PQE in most job vacancies starts to count, in years, once admitted as an attorney of the High Court, not once you have obtained your L.L.B. Law degree and graduated. Your PQE will be specific to the legal sector in which you can prove you have had the most practical experience. For example, if you worked on two commercial contracts but 18 labour matters within two years of being admitted as an attorney, your PQE would lend itself towards labour law experience.
This does not completely dictate your future as a lawyer as far as the legal sector is concerned, nor does it discount that you actually may be brilliant at commercial contract work, BUT it does play a major part in how top-tier law firms as well as medium sized players shortlist their candidates. In the legal market, experience does count and so the more relevant, hands on and practical your experience is, the better for the next opportunity within the same field of expertise.
I’d like to explicitly point out that your experience does play a vital role in carving out your future career within the legal field, and so where you work, what you work on and what you are measured on should be top of mind as it forms the staple tool of your toolkit when proceeding with other opportunities. Can you see that your decisions made as early as starting articles or selecting a masters course matter greatly in your ability to secure your next big opportunity. Always align the course content or work experience with your specific career interest.
If you are looking to add a new specialisation to your arsenal or change your legal direction completely, it will depend a lot on what your expectation of your next move is and what opportunities are in the market at that time. Engage with a recruitment consultant earlier rather than later to guide you in navigating your career with all the aforementioned in mind.
Claire Vogelpath-De Iongh, Managing Director, Vogelpath-De Iongh Recruitment Consultancy.