If you feel passionate about law and order, and upholding justice in your community and country; You might be considering starting working as a lawyer once you have graduated from high school and university. The study of Law has many different pathways for you to weigh up, with each leading to a wide range of jobs and roles.
Whether you want to practice as a criminal barrister in court, within corporate law for big companies' legal teams, or use your skills to become a property lawyer; A big question that students will likely be asking is "What will my salary be once I can practice Law?"
However, this is no easy question to answer due to the large range of firms, job positions, and types of services offered by legal teams around Australia - Each of these provides different levels of income and salary to lawyers.
For example, a graduate lawyer working within the legal team of a small property management company may earn less wages than a private barrister who is hired to defend companies or individuals in court.
In this article, we'll take a brief look at the different fields you could potentially practice in once you have completed your studies, and the average wage for lawyers working in those fields, to give you a better idea of what area you might like to practice in yourself when you start your career.
Which Area of Law Offers the Highest Salaries?
There are laws in place that cover pretty much every aspect of life in Australia, and these are constantly being added to, amended, or removed as decided by the government at the time. This means that there are many distinct fields in which you can choose to practice:
- Animal Welfare
- Civil Litigation
- Corporate or Business
- Estate and Will Planning
- Human Rights
- Intellectual Property
- Media and Arts
- Personal Injury
- Real Estate and Property
Each of these specialisations requires years of experience and study, and they in turn can be split down into further specialisations. Whilst each area of Law is important and will be used widely throughout Australia on a day to day basis, there can still be a big discrepancy between the income and salaries of a solicitor in different fields.
In Australia, the highest average annual wage for a lawyer sits at around $130,000 for a general in-house council solicitor working within corporate law. Of course, this is not an entry position and general in-house councillors need to have expert knowledge in all aspects of corporate law in order to provide their employers with valuable advice and insight into a wide range of specialisations.
When looking at junior positions in Australian corporate firms, you might expect a salary starting from around $70,000 with the scope to increase to up to $200,000 a year! This is potentially the highest wage available to lawyers who practice in Australia, but it is no easy task to reach the amount of experience and skills required to reach this income.
Australia is well known for its thriving construction industry too, which makes it unsurprising that the second-highest average income for lawyers in Australia is awarded to those working in building and construction legal firms.
In terms of international wages, corporate law in Australia actually sits on the lower end of the scale when compared with other western countries. In the UK, corporate lawyers can earn up to 100,000 pounds a year (around 180,000 dollars) in positions that require less experience than general in-house councillors.
Criminal barristers in Australia seem to have the lowest starting wage of all. Whether you are defending or prosecuting, you are looking at an income of around $45,000 as a graduate barrister working in court. Of course, this number can vary depending on your experience and what clients you represent.
Barristers' Salaries in Australia
When deciding where to take your career path as a law student, you have two broad options to choose from (before you specialise in one of the many fields previously mentioned). These options are practising as a barrister or a solicitor.
In very general terms barristers are those lawyers who practice in a court of justice, either defending or prosecuting on criminal or civil grounds, and solicitors will work as part of a legal team at a law firm or corporation.
We mentioned previously that a starting wage for a graduate barrister can be as low as $45,000, but this can be affected by many things. Usually, a wage such as this would be for a newly qualified barrister who has taken a job in the public sector as a state or federal provided defender.
However, many criminal lawyers choose to be freelance agents, offering their legal services to individuals who are facing court as a defendant or taking someone to court as a prosecutor. Working as a freelance barrister with years of experience under your belt allows you to build up a strong client base, and charge a lot of money per hour.
This can see a barristers yearly income rise above that of even the most well-paid business solicitor but carries the risk of irregular pay and employment.
As well as completing law school, to become a barrister in Australia you must pass the bar exam and in some states complete up to a year of pupillage (practising under a more experienced barrister). You will be paid for your time completing pupillage however, which means you can start earning an income a little bit before you actually qualify as a barrister.
Overall, working as a public prosecutor or defender won't offer you the highest income of a job in law, but taking your experience and talent to be a private barrister working with your own clientele just might!
A Solicitors Average Salary in Australia
In Australia, there are currently over 83,000 solicitors employed in various areas of Law, a number that has risen exponentially over the past decade. This means that plenty of positions are being created all the time for new graduates choosing to become solicitors.
Where a barrister normally represents private clients in individual cases, solicitors work for legal firms or within businesses in positions that offer full-time salaries all year round. Many people prefer having a regular income they can rely on rather than an uncertain income from a freelance position.
Senior solicitors at a law firm can also gain other benefits from their job on top of an already generous wage. This could be health insurance, a company car or phone, or even shares or a partnership in the law firm if they show loyalty and commitment through their time there.
Of course, this will all depend on which firm you work for and whereabouts in Australia you are practising law. Working with a large law firm in Sydney, for example, is likely to net you a much higher salary than if you are employed by a start-up law firm in a small rural town.
Generally speaking though, solicitors can find entry positions in law firms with a salary of up to $90,000 with the range for it to grow to up to $115,000 per year on average.
As well as your location of practice, this salary is likely to be affected by your specialisation. For example, your wage will likely be higher if you are employed in corporate law than personal injury.
What Have We Learnt?
As you can probably tell, becoming either a barrister or solicitor to practice in Australia is definitely a good way to secure yourself a well paid and stable job. Whether you want a job at a legal firm or in the court, and whether you represent publicly or privately will have an impact on your wage as a lawyer, but either way you are looking at a very decent starting salary with much room to grow.
What area of law you decide to practice will depend on your own passion and motivation for studying the subject - Are you in it to help people through tough times, or just for the money?
Whatever you decide, be sure to maintain your working life balance to continue enjoying the career you love for as long as you can!
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