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PwC Australia

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  • > 100,000 employees

James Dickie

My paralegal experience along with the practical competitions I participated in at university confirmed law was for me.

Where did you grow up? Talk us through your education, previous employment and any experience you’ve had abroad. 

I grew up in Melbourne, in the bayside suburb of Mordialloc. I finished school at Melbourne High School in 2011 and picked up a number of hospitality jobs that summer. My first job was at a great family-run cafe as a barista and I ended up working there all the way through university right up until I started my current job at PwC. I definitely give a lot of credit to this hospitality experience for helping me land my job today; the interpersonal and time management skills I developed were invaluable and have certainly helped prepare me for a collaborative team environment and client interactions.

In my fourth year at university, I realised I didn’t have a whole lot of relevant legal experience to my name and I began looking for something to bolster my CV in preparation for job applications. With this in mind, a close mate and I entered the Deals competition hosted by the Deakin Law Students’ Society. It turned out to be a lot of fun and we ended up winning the competition. Following this, we were invited to fly to India to compete in the NLU Delhi International Negotiation Competition with 23 other teams from universities across the world! I was two weeks into my exchange semester, studying at Utrecht University in the Netherlands at the time. This competition was an intense, yet fantastic experience that gave a very real feel for what legal negotiations can look like. We were delighted to finish as runners up of the competition.

I returned from exchange at the start of my fifth and final year at university and managed to get a couple of volunteer legal positions: one at a community legal centre helping clients with disabilities who have experienced discrimination at work, and another at a small boutique law firm focusing mainly on criminal law and family law. The latter of these ended up offering me a casual position as a paralegal, which I accepted and juggled three to four days a week on top of final year at university. This paralegal role helped confirm that I wanted a career in law, but I quickly realised that neither family law nor criminal law was where I wanted to be. Despite this, the on-the-job skills I learnt through client communications, preparing court documents and proofreading all sorts of legal documents, have proved critical in my legal career so far. 

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I was lucky enough to land a graduate position in the legal team at PwC right after university, starting in March 2017. This was only the second year that PwC had a graduate intake in Melbourne for their legal team. Luckily a friend of mine heard about the opportunity and told me about it just before my final exam period in 2016 – I applied online that night. I’ve now been with the firm for two years, having settled in the Corporate legal team after completing three different rotations in my first 18 months.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

The law side of my double degree always interested me more than the commerce aspects. My paralegal experience along with the practical competitions I participated in at university confirmed law was for me. I am grateful for the opportunity I had in working in family law and criminal law, but I realised I did not want a career in either of those fields. I still had some interest in commercial business from my commerce degree and so corporate law was a logical pathway for me.

I began my graduate year with a rotation in the Digital law team, with my second rotation being in the Projects team, before my final rotation into the Corporate team. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my rotations and I would strongly encourage anyone applying for graduate positions to seek to have a broad range of experiences in various teams rather than having tunnel vision for one area.  When it came to choosing a team, I had great difficulty deciding, but ultimately chose the Corporate legal team and haven’t looked back since.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The application process began with a series of online assessments that looked to assess my skills in various areas. Following this stage, there was a digital interview. I was incredibly nervous for this as you only get one shot. I attempted the practice questions so many times. When I attempted the real questions, I was surprised to find they were largely focused on myself and my experiences, rather than testing my legal skills and knowledge.

I was then invited to the office for a face-to-face interview, which ended up feeling more like a casual discussion about myself and my interests. This gave me a great chance to ask questions about PwC and the culture, so I could see if it sounded like a place I would be happy to work at. About a month later, I was invited into the office again for a follow-up interview, however I was travelling through the UK at this time. I ended up having an interview over Skype whilst I was in a hostel in Paris. This was even more relaxed than my first interview and I basically just talked about my overseas travels for the most part. It really felt like they were trying to get a better idea of who I was and my personal interests. 

A week or two later, I was delighted to receive a graduate offer, which I accepted immediately.

What does your employer do?

PwC is a professional services firm that provides a range of services across legal, tax, assurance, audit, consulting and many other areas. PwC’s legal team is a multi-disciplinary practice that has a broad range of capabilities, with the key pillars of legal services being Corporate, Digital, Projects & Finance and Workplace & Employment law.

In Corporate law, we work with an extensive international and domestic client base of major corporations and financial institutions; family-owned enterprises; not-for-profit organisations; high-net-worth individuals; and public and private companies, for a variety of work. This work includes mergers and acquisitions; IPOs and other capital market transactions; general corporate and commercial advice; board advisory; entity governance and compliance; and corporate restructures, amongst other things.

What are your areas of responsibility?

The areas of my responsibility vary. On large transactions I am often responsible for conducting due diligence; analysing the terms of various contracts; conducting searches to understand the corporate structure of the transaction entities; preparing the key transaction documents such as the sale agreement; attending negotiations; and subsequently reflecting the outcome of those negotiations in the transaction documents. For smaller matters, such as providing corporate and commercial advice, I would be responsible for conducting legal research; drafting the initial advice; communicating with the client to provide this advice; and answering client questions.

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

I rarely have a typical work day, as any given day could see me working on something new. One of the last things I worked on was helping a client who had started up his own business, to sell half of his business to an investment management firm in order to grow the company further with the funds from the sale. I attended the negotiations and was responsible for drafting and updating the transaction documents as the negotiations progressed. I then ran the completion process, which involved meeting with or calling the client almost every day to help them prepare and deliver the required documents in order to meet the conditions of the sale. This process also involved applying to register various trade marks, which were ultimately accepted. It was an exciting first venture into intellectual property law for me. 

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?

From my position there are a number of directions the job could take me, ranging from staying on and progressing up the ranks to partner, transitioning to become an in-house lawyer or chasing international opportunities whether by secondment at PwC or otherwise. Working overseas is immensely appealing to me and I am fortunate that whilst the law obviously differs between jurisdictions, the commercial legal skills involved in my work are largely transferable and would allow me to practise as a foreign qualified lawyer in a number of overseas jurisdictions.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Whilst having a commerce degree in conjunction with a law degree has been quite useful for my experience, it is definitely not the only combination of degrees that could lead to my job. Many of my peers and colleagues have a variety of different secondary degrees in addition to their law degree. 

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
If I didn’t get into law, I think I’d have drawn upon my commerce degree and followed a path into market analytics. I also genuinely loved my time in hospitality and could very well have found myself working in a cafe or bar.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

There are two things I love most about my job: 

1.The people and culture:
I can honestly say that the people in my team are not just colleagues, they’re mates. We have some great policies such as ‘dress for your day’, flexible working arrangements including the ability to work from home, and great social events – all of which help to create a positive team environment.

2.The variety of work and opportunity to work as an integrated team with commercial advisors from other practice areas of PwC: 
The ability to provide not just high-tier legal advice, but also to incorporate tax, financial and/or valuation advice and then to deliver well rounded commercial advice, is incredibly satisfying. It allows me to further my professional development by understanding these important factors, rather than pigeonholing myself to standard legal advice alone.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends?

As can be expected, there can often be a lot of pressure to deliver high-quality work within a tight timeframe, but seldom overbearingly. The opportunity to hold a lot of responsibility has seen me exceed my own expectations and has certainly helped me become a better lawyer. I have worked on a handful of weekends since I started at PwC, but this is not a regular occurrence. I still manage to commit to play competitive and social sport thanks to our flexible work policy, which means I often leave early during the week and make up those hours elsewhere.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Every experience is a good experience. Whether it’s accepting a job you’re not sure you’ll like or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something new, I recommend taking every opportunity that presents itself. Some opportunities only come around once!
  • Every bit of work experience is valuable. You don’t necessarily need to have legal experience to learn and develop relevant skills for landing a job in law. For example, hospitality experience can prepare you for dealing with clients.
  • Make the most of the university holidays. For me, one of the biggest transitions from university life to full-time work was going from four months of holidays a year to four weeks. Go and do the things now that you might not have time for later – that TV show on Netflix will still be there down the track.