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Careers for law graduates in mining and resources

Jaymes Carr

Careers Commentator

What do professionals in this sector do?

The Australian mining sector is enormous, contributing six to seven percent of the country’s GDP. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and a significant producer of tin, aluminum, copper, gold, iron, diamond, opal, and zinc. The sector directly employs some 187,400 people, whose roles range from prospecting and maintenance supervision to driving and physical labour.

Where do they work?

Due to the breadth of the mining sector, it employs people across Australia in both metropolitan and regional areas. Some of the more prominent mining organisations include Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Alcoa, Bluescope Steel, Hancock Prospecting and Newcrest.

The regional centres of Australian mining are, arguably, Kalgoorlie, the Hunter Valley, and the Bowen Basin. Australia’s largest active mines are overwhelmingly concentrated in South Australia and Western Australia, which produce iron ore, coal and gold. While many mining sector personnel are based in remote towns, others have a ‘fly in, fly out’ lifestyle that allows them to spend weekends and off-time in more densely populated areas.

However, you won’t only find the mining sector’s employees in the field. The mining sector provides jobs to some 600,000 people in support industries, including those who provide mining software, excavation equipment, and supply chain management. Many of these employees are situated in major cities.

How can I take advantage of my law degree?

As a law graduate, there are various ways that you can become involved in this sector. First, there are in-house legal positions at most major mining and resource organisations. This would include big names like BHP, Rio Tinto, and Newcrest, as well as smaller mineral exploration companies.

Second, there are positions within established generalist law firms that focus on providing external advice to mining and resource companies. For example, Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills, and King & Wood Mallesons all have divisions dedicated to clients in the resources sector. Additionally, there are smaller boutique law firms that focus on mining alone – some examples would include Rankin Ellison and Hunt & Mining Access Legal.

Finally, law graduates who don’t wish to practice law will still find roles in the mining sector that allow them to make use of their transferrable skills. These range from project management to compliance enforcement, as well as a range of roles that capitalise on the law graduate’s ability to communicate clearly and accurately (for example, roles in marketing and public relations).

While the focus has historically been on the mining component of this sector – which has been its economic flagbearer – the growth of companies in the renewable and alternative energies market can be expected to create new roles in the future for ambitious and adaptable graduates.

What is the average salary?

The average graduate entry-level package is $86,000 and the average industry hours are 50 per week, making this the most lucrative industry on a dollar-per-hour basis.