More than just law: How the GDLP can supercharge your career

Adam O'Brien (GDLP '10) says the program offers graduates a broad professional skill set.
Adam O'Brien (GDLP '10) says the program instills a broad professional skill set.

I do a lot of advisory projects with the Victorian Courts, and being admitted has been very helpful to building credibility amongst the judiciary.

Adam O’Brien (GDLP ’10) leads the public sector advisory practice of management consulting firm Grosvenor Performance Group. He oversees advisory projects with clients ranging from nationwide not-for-profits to Victorian Courts, with his work requiring him to employ masterful questioning and distil complex information into clear, readable reports.

When he enrolled in the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP) at ANU, Adam viewed the program the same way as many of his classmates: a valuable stepping stone to a legal career, even if it was “plan B” for him at the time.

However, Adam was immediately impressed by his teachers at the ANU School of Legal Practice and the broad skillset he unlocked through the GDLP. After graduation he took a small detour from consulting into the legal profession working at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, however he credits much of his success in his return to management consulting to professional strengths instilled by the GDLP including clear communication and legal credibility.

Why did you study the GDLP?

I knew I didn’t want to practice law as a full-time career. Part of my reasoning was I wanted to make sure I got the most out of my undergraduate education, so a GDLP was a way to build upon that foundation. Part of it was I felt that legal practice would be useful as a back-up career if management consulting wasn’t successful. Part of it was the pride that I suspected would accrue from being admitted to the Supreme Court. And, being totally honest, there was a “suggestion” from family that it would be a good thing to do!

What did you enjoy most about the program?

I actually started my practical legal training through another provider and stopped after completing the first unit because the quality of education just didn’t meet my expectations. Part of me thought I shouldn’t bother continuing, but I’d made a commitment and wanted to see it through. From the first day I was impressed with the ANU program. The teachers were enthusiastic and engaging, there were multiple guest speakers brought in, and I could see value in every task, activity and assignment that was required.

How did the GDLP prepare for success in your current role?

Countless ways. I do a lot of advisory projects with the Victorian Courts, and being admitted has been very helpful to building credibility amongst the judiciary. In terms of skill sets, there are two which I regularly credit to the GDLP. The first is the art of asking good questions; there is a science to crafting a good question and I remember lots of practical activities we undertook to refine our approach to questioning during my time at ANU. The second is plain English drafting; not just in writing clearly, but in the skills it requires, particularly in quickly getting across lots of complex information and distilling it into more simple, clearly understood concepts and language.

What are some of the advantages ANU offers delivering the program?

The guest speakers were really fantastic, however the flexibility was what I most valued. This included on-campus and online delivery, but also in regard to a flexible approach to the practical legal training component. I had a three-year gap between finishing my undergraduate studies and commencing the GDLP. During those three years I’d worked for many corporates across the ASX and big public sector entities, so when it came to choosing how I’d complete my supervised practice, I wanted something different from the typical corporate pathway.

ANU had partnered with community legal centres, so I was able to receive a scholarship from ANU to support a month=long stint of supervised legal training at a community legal centre near Byron Bay. That time provided me with a valuable perspective on the types of legal problems people face. I had the opportunity to visit two remote Aboriginal communities as part of an outreach program run by the Central Land Council, as well as multiple drop-in advice nights for local community members to seek free legal advice. It was really a stand-out experience during my time at ANU.

What benefits does the GDLP offer students who may not aspire to be legal practitioners?

Despite the proliferation of legal graduates, being admitted does bring with it some immediate credibility in many respects, which can help to differentiate you when applying for different jobs. In my case, being admitted has helped me add extra value to my workplace by being able to take on a small in-house advisory role alongside my consulting work.

However, ultimately it’s the diversity of skills and capabilities you develop which can be applied in so many contexts that provides a real return on investment. The practical exercises help to build confidence in presenting and advocating for your ideas. I also just can’t underestimate how helpful plain-English drafting has been in writing compelling, convincing reports. And I have to admit, even the accounting skills have come in handy at times!

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  Director, GDLP/Page Contact:  Program Coordinator, GDLP