To be, or not to be... a lawyer that is

Written by: Tom Pilley
Feb 15 2024

There’s more to being a lawyer than, as solicitor Tom Pilley puts it, getting top marks in law school and memorising the Companies Act. 

Tom says being a lawyer is about working with clients to offer them a personalised, supportive, and practical solution to the issues they are facing. 

To provide a guide (and inspiration) for those thinking about a career in law, Tom talks about his experience, from getting into law by accident at university through to now being part of a supportive and inspiring profession.    

“Unfortunately, people tend to associate lawyers with those nasty ones they see on television. But I’ve found that stereotype to be (mostly) untrue,” he says. 

What inspired you to become a lawyer? 

It just sort of happened by accident. When I was picking my courses before I started university, I found out you needed to get a certain grade to get into second year law. That seemed like a challenge, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Somewhere down the track I realised law was very interesting, so I stuck with it. I haven’t looked back seven years on.

What do you love about law? 

The variety. No two instructions are the same and it’s impossible to predict how a transaction is going to develop from the day the client first walks through the door until the day it settles. Thinking of creative new ways to get the right outcome for your client never gets boring.

What qualities do you need to be a successful lawyer? 

Law is about solving problems which means you have to have the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand what makes them ‘tick’. That requires you to break down key issues, understand your client, and suggest the best route forward for your client. Compassion, empathy, awareness – call it what you will. 

Your success as a lawyer isn’t measured by your grades and qualifications or how many sections you can memorise from the Companies Act. It’s measured by how many clients come back because you offer them the most personalised and pragmatic solutions to the issues they face.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing law? 

Give it a go! It’s so different to anything you do at school and other professions, so you won’t know if you’ll enjoy it unless you try it. And even if it’s not your thing, you’ll pick up some useful skills along the way. Learning things like problem solving, how to communicate ideas effectively, structuring arguments and advocating on behalf of others will benefit you in all walks of life.

Were there ever times in law school where you didn’t want to become a lawyer? 

About two minutes into the end of year torts exam, circa 2018. If you were there, you’d know.

If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?  

I wanted to be a journalist for a while when I was at school, so probably that. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I enjoy researching things. It seemed like a logical choice.

Now that you are working as a lawyer, is it what you expected? 

It’s very different to law school. The work you do is obviously much more pragmatic and often very rewarding. 

The legal profession is also collegial – people look out for each other. I’ve been lucky enough to meet lots of people who have been willing to offer guidance and support. Unfortunately, people tend to associate lawyers with those nasty ones you see on television, but I’ve found that stereotype to be (mostly) untrue.