“Law is order, and good law is good order.” - Aristotle
Many people will be familiar with names such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Abraham Lincoln, and Thurgood Marshall. Or famous Australians such as Michael Kirby, Mick Dodson, and Julian Burnside.
All famous lawyers, they each have made lasting impacts in the legal system inspiring many young professionals to follow in their footsteps.
Some lawyers are pioneers in their field, advocates for equality, freedom, and social justice. Others are well known throughout popular culture with their names constantly appearing in news headlines for having defended famous Australians or being involved in high profile cases.
Through their memorable courtroom speeches and determination for upholding the law, they have motivated generation after generation to study and practice the law.
Lawyers hold the power to shape people's lives and the way society views issues, they have the ability to make a real difference (for better or for worse) nationally in Australia, as well as internationally.
The potential for earning a seven-figure income drives some students to enrol in a law degree whilst others are encouraged by the chance of having an impact on society.
For whichever reason you want to study law in Australia, Superprof has put together the essential information to guide you through the steps of becoming a successful lawyer.
The Process To Becoming a Lawyer
The first stage of becoming a professional lawyer in Australia starts towards the end of high school.
Having done well in achieving top grades will help pave the way for you to be admitted into one of the reputable law schools such as the University of Melbourne or Monash University in Victoria, The University of Sydney or The University of New South Wales for NSW, or of course The Australian National University in the ACT. Each law school will have their own selection and entry requirements, so we advise you to be familiar with these early on.
What ATAR subject should I be doing?
To be well prepared as you set out on your journey, it is suggested to choose subjects of English, politics, humanities, legal studies, or any language other than English during Year 12. This will help with your future learning.
When you eventually have passed through the secondary school stage and are accepted to study a course at an accredited university, there are a few key elements of legal education that you'll need to successfully complete in order to be admitted to practise Australian law. Solicitors and Barristers must pass through these essential steps:
- Academic: A key component to practising law is obtaining the right qualifications. You'll have to complete either a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or a Postgraduate degree such as the Juris Doctor (JD) program or a Master of Laws from any Australian university (or from qualifying overseas common law countries such as New Zealand, America, the UK, Hong Kong, Canada, and India for example). It will take a minimum of three years of full-time study, with students having the option to choose some electives that best suit and interest them.
- Vocational: The next stage involves what is known as Practical Legal Training (PLT) or Supervise Workplace Training (SWT). PLT clerkships can last between 6-12 months and are done with a recognised provider, whereas SWT is often 1 year of traineeship with a law firm.
- Admission: Aspiring lawyers will then have to apply for admission to the Supreme Court of an Australian State or Territory with the Council of Legal Education. This is then followed by supervised legal practice for approximately 18 to 24 months before a certificate in the jurisdiction is issued to those deemed "fit and proper".
Now you should be across the stages to becoming a qualified solicitor or barrister.
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Where Does a Law Degree Take Me?
After doing the hard yards and graduating from law school, there are a plethora of jobs available in the legal industry and other fields of work.
As you'll see when you begin searching, there are a number of other different career opportunities available after graduating. For example:
- Paralegal: Paralegals have specialised legal knowledge making them well sought in the industry. The role can involve a lot of high-level research and analytical work, case planning, or trial preparation.
- Barrister's Clerk: This work is based on administration and conducting essential business activities in the barristers' chambers.
If after some time spent within the legal system you come to the decision that you want to move on, remember there are many other jobs available for those who hold a coveted law degree. Those who have a legal background can find themselves working in various areas such as:
- Activism: If you have always wanted to see justice in action, make a real difference, and contribute to the world-changing, activism may be your calling! An inkling for revolution together with legal knowledge is essential in knowing exactly which boundaries to push in parliament and incite change. If you took to Environment law whilst studying for your degree, you may want to become involved with a career at Sea Shephard, Amnesty International, or Greenpeace.
- Journalism: Reporters need thorough skills in research, reading and writing as it is important to be able to write ethical material. Having an understanding and base knowledge in legal matters may allow you to speak on constitutional, criminal, or industrial matters.
- Politics: The great thing about law is that it supports students to have heaps of transferable skills from their learning. You will notice quite a number of law graduates go into the public service afterwards where they have the space to apply their analytical and public speaking skills, confidence, and ability to work under pressure or in difficult situations to a new career.
No matter what career path you decide to go on, you can rest assured employers will always value a law degree. The sky really is the limit!
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The Annual Salary of a Lawyer
The Law is often said to be a high earning profession. This may be the case after several years of experience, however, junior lawyers coming out fresh from law school won't make as much money as some may think. Once the accumulation of student loans are cleared and there are a few years of experience under the belt, a lawyer will see more of an income.
Salaries of Barristers
Barristers tend to make more money in the long run when compared to solicitors. A barrister is specifically someone who will go to represent their client in court (including trials, but this is not always the case!). On average they can expect to earn anywhere between $70,000 to over $200,000 per year. This will depend on factors including the job at hand, the location, and their experience and skills of course.
Professional barristers with many years of experience can earn a higher salary and even more if they are working in a sought after private practice. There are also some barristers who decide to seek employment in the public sector.
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Salaries of Solicitors
Solicitors on the other hand are employed to offer their client's expert legal advice.
They are lawyers who provide guidance and may be very much involved in a particular case, but won’t necessarily represent the client in court out. The pay of a solicitor will increase with attracting new clients, winning cases and working long hours during evenings or even the weekends. The average salary is estimated at about $138,000 a year.
Those who decide to work at bigger commercial law firms may attract a higher income. While salaries tend to be more inflated in Australia's bigger cities, the competition for the top jobs is extremely fierce.
Solicitors need to ensure they hold an impressive resume with notable work experience and outstanding extracurricular activities.
After years and years of hard work, professional solicitors may look towards being a partner in a law firm that could mean they receive extra compensation if they are equity partners sharing in the firm's profits.
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How the Bar Exam Works in Australia
In countries like the United States, the bar examination is administered after law school to assess one's legal knowledge and ensure that the student is deserving of their license to practice law. Nevertheless, the legal system is different throughout Australia. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are states which conduct equivalent exams.
The process in other states and territories is that candidates are allowed to progress straight to practice courses, with the exception of those in the ACT, who will go through the NSW exam and practice course.
As we referred to earlier, aspiring candidates are required to complete vocational training after successfully receiving their Bachelor's of Law (LLB) diploma from any qualified university. The Admissions Authority in that state or territory will require students to qualify as barristers by taking particular examinations in their Practical Legal Training (PLT).
The purpose of this program is to help provide graduates with a theoretical understanding of the law and the knowledge and skills required to perform the essential daily tasks of a legal practitioner.
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Are There Fees Involved?
The short answer: Yes. One thing aspiring lawyers should be aware of is that PLT is not all that cheap!
Unfortainetly there is no way for a student to skip this crucial step as it is a necessary hurdle requirement that candidates must pass in order to become qualified barristers. A PLT with 75 days of work experience will set you back $9,640. If you are prepared to work more hours, there is a slightly lower cost. the higher the fee.
That is a PLT consisting of 25 or 15 days of work experience will amount to approximately $11,000. Those wanting to do it online will still need to pay around $11,64.
The PLT program is our bar exam equivalent in Australia that truly prepares future barristers for future challenges.
And after some blood, sweat and tears, students having successfully passed all the written examinations will finally move from their learning onto their application to become a barrister!
Becoming a lawyer requires a lot of work and learning.
It will take time, much dedication, self-discipline and requires more than a few weeks of studying at the campus library.
Nevertheless, the benefits will outweigh all the sacrifices made. Just think about the sheer thrill of winning a difficult case or fighting for people in need of justice - this makes the legal profession not just delightful but satisfying as well!
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