Lawyers are infamous for being expensive. And while this is often the case, there are also many lawyers working in Australia who are so passionate about the welfare of others that they take on pro-bono cases, work in legal aid, or undertake civil rights cases.
It’s fair to say that most parents would be overjoyed for their child to become a lawyer.
Lawyers are synonymous with a good education, academic success and a high-earning career.
In Australia, the legal profession is commonly split into barristers and solicitors but there are also magistrates and judges.
A lot of parents in Australia may just want their children to complete a law degree, but not necessarily become a barrister or solicitor.
They believe that having a law qualification under your belt will look good on your CV and boost your career opportunities.
Other parents want their children to become attorneys for their perceived higher status in society, while others know that legal professionals earn a substantial salary meaning they can live a comfortable life and provide for their families.
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Salary of Barristers
A barrister is an independent specialist advocate and advisor in law.
Barristers are a client's legal representative in court. They act on behalf of clients who are involved in serious legal issues or criminal cases before the court.
Therefore, barristers spend a lot of time in the courtroom. Barristers are renowned for their advocacy before the courts but they are also skilled in Dispute Resolution, both judicial and non-judicial.
Training Required to Become a Barrister
Much training is required to become a qualified and working barrister. Following secondary education, there are four compulsory steps that one needs to complete in order to meet the requirements to become a professional barrister:
- Tertiary Education: you must complete a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree at a recognised law school. This coursework is vital to ensure you have basic knowledge of the legal system. A law degree takes at least three or four years to complete.
- Australian Bar Entrance Examination: you must pass the Bar Exam set by the Australian Bar Association to qualify for a place in the Readers’ Course.
- Readers’ Course: you must complete the 9-10 week course which is a comprehensive introduction to life as a barrister. The course covers oral and written advocacy; legal practice skills; legal ethics; forensic, analytical, and marketing skills; how to run a sole practice; and practice building and development.
- Mentorship: you must work under an approved mentor at the Bar for nine months. You will work in your mentor’s chambers where you will receive briefs and develop your practice. Your mentor will show you around the Bar, introduce you to other barristers, provide advice, and answer questions.
You will then obtain a practicing certificate and professional indemnity insurance before you can practice law legally.
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Average Salary of Barristers
According to a recent release of statistics by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), legal professions are among the top 10 salary earners in Australia. However, unfortunately how much you earn depends on your gender.
In the 2017/18 financial year, female barristers earned an average yearly income of $70,227 while male barristers earned $190,454.
It is important to keep in mind that barristers work as sole practitioners in essentially contract positions. Thus, they only get paid for the work undertaken, rather than a wage or salary.
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Salary of Solicitors
Solicitors handle the everyday legal matters and activities of their clients.
For example, they can provide legal assistance in conveyancing, intellectual property, estate planning, and more.
They work largely from an office. Solicitors can legally appear in court, but they usually have a barrister handle court appearances for them.
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Training Required to Become a Solicitor
To become a qualified solicitor, 5-6 years of post-secondary training is required. There are 3 obligatory steps you need to complete to become a professional solicitor:
- Tertiary Education: just like when becoming a barrister, if you want to be a solicitor you must complete a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. If you already have an undergraduate degree, you can complete a Juris Doctor (JD). These degree programs ensure you have the legal education you need to provide legal advice to future clients.
- Legal Practice Training (LPT): PLT is a structured professional training course that will assist you in developing the practical, day-to-day skills you will require as an entry-level lawyer. By completing this legal training, you will earn a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.
- Admission to Practice: you can now apply for admission to practice from the Admission Authority in your state. You will also need to apply for a Practising Certificate from the local Law Society.
Following the completion of these steps, you can legally practice as a solicitor.
There are different types of law that you might choose to specialise in, including Alternative Dispute Resolution, Appellate, Commercial Law, Common Law or Personal Injury, Criminal Law, Employment Law, Environmental Law, Family Law, International Law, Administrative Law, and Tax Law.
It is estimated that there are 65,000 solicitors working in Australia.
That’s a lot of competition, which means extra skills and work experience are required if becoming a lawyer is your dream!
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Average Salary of Solicitors
In the 2017/18 financial year, female solicitors earned an average yearly income of $112,731 while male solicitors earned $148,487.
Like barristers, how much you earn depends on what type of law you practice. According to SEEK, Generalist In-House Counsels earn the most money, with an average annual salary of $128,988.
The second-highest earners are Building and Construction Lawyers, who earn an average annual salary of $124,041.
For lawyers who practice Corporate Law, you can earn an average annual salary of $118,558. However, how much you earn also depends on your experience.
A junior Corporate Lawyer can earn a salary of $70,000 per year.
On the other hand, the most experienced Corporate Lawyers can earn an annual salary of $200,000.
The average annual salary for a Criminal Lawyer is $72,075.
A junior Criminal Lawyer can earn as little as $45,000 per year, while more experienced Criminal Lawyers can earn at least $150,000, if not more.
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The size of your law firm can also impact how much you earn.
According to consultancy firm Taylor Root’s “2020-21 Salary Guide & Market Report for the Banking & Financial Services Legal sector in Australia”, General Counsel for a global company can earn an average annual salary of between $285,000-$440,000.
While that might seem like a lot, it’s nothing compared to General Counsels with multi-jurisdiction coverage. They can earn between $400,000-$750,000 per year.
And it doesn’t stop there. The most experienced lawyers in this field can earn a yearly remuneration of a whopping $750,000-$1,000,000.
Finally, how much you earn also depends on the location of your law practice.
Beacon Legal’s ‘Private Practice Salary and Market Report 2020’ found that the highest paying lawyer jobs could be found in Sydney, followed by Melbourne, with Brisbane in third place.
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What Skills Are Required to Earn a High Salary as a Lawyer?
By completing the steps outlined above, you can become a barrister or solicitor and provide legal services.
But if you want to become a better lawyer who earns a higher salary, you need to attain and perfect certain skills.
The best legal practitioners have the following skills:
- Resilience and perseverance: it takes a lot of hard work to study a law degree, complete the various training stages in order to become a qualified lawyer, and find a job in a competitive job market. You must be resilient and persevere in order to achieve your goal.
- Verbal communication: this is the most important skill for barristers. As a barrister, you must be able to communicate your arguments to a judge and jury in a manner that persuades the court to find in your favour. Consequently, you should also be comfortable with public speaking. Solicitors need verbal communication skills for everyday tasks such as phone calls, client meetings, and presentations, as well as during dispute resolution, mediation, and arbitration.
- Written communication: to be a lawyer, you have to do a lot of writing. You will write letters to clients, draft legal documents and court documents, draw up claims and petitions, prepare wills and contracts, and more. You must have excellent grammar and spelling skills to avoid making any mistakes that might jeopardise your work. You should also be fluent, articulate, and persuasive to communicate confidence and achieve the result you’re after.
- Persuasion: to be lawyer, you have to be persuasive in order to convince a court to find in your favour, win cases and satisfy your clients. Being persuasive can also help you with negotiation, allow you to meditate effectively, and settle disputes.
- Academic ability: law firms seek graduate law students with the highest academic qualifications. Good grades during your legal studies will show potential employers that you have the intellectual ability, research, and analytical skills required to be a successful lawyer.
- Research and analysis: lawyers have to undertake a lot of legal research, and read vast amounts of information. You need to be able to process information that can be very technical and complex, and draw the right conclusions from it. At times, there may be more than one possible conclusion, so you need to utilise your analytical skills to figure out which is the best option for the case at hand.
- Time management: being a lawyer is a very time-consuming profession, with a heavy workload. You require excellent time management skills in order to meet deadlines, juggle different tasks, clients and cases at the same time, and generally cope with such a demanding job.
If you can hone these skills, you will be ahead of the pack when looking for a job, or an increased salary. Legal work may be tough but if you work hard you will succeed.
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