We all have to attend school in our childhood and teenage years in order to learn the basic skills and knowledge that are required to help us in adult life and allow us to get jobs or start a career. Whilst school is compulsory up until your year 10 exams in Australia, you have the decision of whether or not to enrol in further education and start a bachelor degree course or similar at university.
Whilst there are many good jobs that are accessible to people with high school certificates, a bachelor degree or higher qualification is usually required to enter into careers which offer the highest salaries and the best benefits to employees; Like careers in medicine, science, or law.
If you dream of starting a career as a lawyer, whether you want to be in the courtroom as a barrister or in a law firm as a solicitor, it is essential that you gain a bachelor degree and complete several years of training in your field before you can legally practice law in Australia.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the best universities in Australia where you can study law, how long it'll take you to become a qualified lawyer and compare notes on practising as a barrister or solicitor
The Best Australian Universities to Study Law
Each country has its own laws and constitutions, and Australia is no different. This means that if you want to practice law in Australia, you need to complete your degree and practical legal training in the subject at an Australian university which is approved by the legal board of Australia.
Of course, many laws are the same across the world, but others can differ heavily meaning you need to be learning the relevant information to the country you wish to start a career in as a lawyer.
However, some universities may offer you the opportunity to study abroad for a semester; An exciting experience that affords you the chance to expand your worldview and gain valuable experience in both law and your personal life.
The first step towards becoming a qualified lawyer in Australia is to complete a bachelor degree of law, or a double degree in which you major in law. Alternatively, if you have already completed a bachelor degree in another academic subject, you could enrol in a Juris Doctor program in an Australian university.
Juris Doctor is a postgraduate course that offers another pathway into a career in law. Whilst a bachelor degree in law would take 4 years full time, the Juris Doctor program takes 3 years of full-time study, and 6 years of part-time study.
Many universities in Australia offer a degree in law or double degrees with law as a major. The entry requirements for these universities is normally quite high but can vary quite a lot, depending mainly on the quality of the university and its rankings in Australia. For example, to gain guaranteed entry to study a double degree of law and commerce at Sydney university, you need a 99.5 ATAR score!
Here are some of the best-regarded universities to study law in Australia:
- Sydney University
- Melbourne University
- University of New South Wales
- The University of Queensland
- Swinburne University (Melbourne)
- Monash University
- University of Tasmania
- Wollongong University
All of these universities, as well as others, rank in the top 20 for law degrees in Australia; Meaning if you are accepted on to a bachelor degree or Juris Doctor program at any of these institutes you'll be receiving a high-quality education that should set you up for a successful career.
The higher the rank of the university, however, the higher your ATAR results need to be to secure a place on the course of your dreams. So if you have your heart set on attending Sydney University, your journey really starts in high school!
Becoming a Barrister or a Solicitor
Somewhere along the way of your study of law at university, you'll need to make the decision as to whether you want to become a barrister or a solicitor. Each are professionally recognised legal practitioners who are essential to the justice system in Australia, but their responsibilities and daily tasks differ quite a bit.
After you finish your bachelor degree you are required to undergo 2 years of 'Practical Legal Training', which is where you begin further professional training in the role of either a barrister or a solicitor.
In the law industry, you mainly find barristers working within criminal or civil law cases in the courtroom. As a barrister you can either defend clients accused of criminal activity or alternatively prosecute those same people.
A key difference between barristers and solicitors is that barristers usually (though not always) practice as freelance agents, and this has several implications to a barristers career.
As a freelancer, you do not have a boss as such and are therefore responsible for finding your own place of work (i.e. renting an office) and building up your own clientele in order to have consistent cases. This does mean that your workflow is not guaranteed and there may be periods of time throughout the year where you do not have any cases.
To combat the extra costs from renting an office space, buying your own supplies, and potentially having stretches of little or no work; Barristers often charge high hourly rates to their clients.
Working as a freelancer means you are a private barrister, but you can also work as a public defendant. Public defendants are employed by the states' law authorities to provide legal representation to accused parties who cannot afford or don't want to hire a private barrister.
Overall, criminal barristers with little experience can expect a starting annual salary of around $70,000, with the scope to increase to over $110,000 with more experience.
Whilst solicitors do occasionally sit in on court cases as legal support, you more often find them working in an office at a law firm. Preparing cases for court, writing up legal contracts, and offering professional legal advice to clients are all regular tasks that a solicitor undertakes.
Unlike barristers, solicitors are normally employed through a law firm, meaning they aren't freelance agents and are instead paid a monthly salary. Whilst you may not earn as much per hour as a barrister, a regular and stable paycheck is always a good thing and solicitors on average make about the same money ($113,000 per year) once they are fully qualified and have a few years of experience.
There are several other benefits and perks to working in a law firm as opposed to as a freelancer, these are as follows:
- Less overheads i.e. office rent or purchasing of supplies
- Company bonuses
- Potentially a company car or mobile phone
- The possibility of becoming a partner of the law firm itself
There are also many areas of law that you can specialise in as a solicitor, so you can find an area you feel passionate about to keep you inspired and motivated on the job. A few areas of law you can practice in are:
- Building and Construction
- Corporate Law
- Employment Law
- Civil Litigation
- Property Law
You may find that salaries differ slightly between some areas of law, corporate law, as well as construction, typically offer the highest salaries to solicitors working in Australia.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Barrister or Solicitor?
For many well-regarded careers like medicine or architecture, students are required to undertake a good few years of studying: Becoming a lawyer is just the same!
Let's do a quick run-through of the steps:
- Graduate from university with a bachelor degree in law
- Complete practical legal training as a barrister or solicitor
- Apply for your practising certificate and practice whilst supervised by a senior lawyer
A bachelor degree will last 4 years in full-time study, legal training is around 2 years, and supervised practice is usually 1 year.
So altogether you are looking at 7 years of study from start to finish, but the final 2 years will be paid. It will all be worth it in the end when you achieve your goal of becoming a lawyer!
It may seem like a long and complicated road to becoming a lawyer, but realistically if you are passionate and motivated you will love the journey of learning how to practice law. The cherry on top will be your strong and stable career and handsome salary from day one of working as a lawyer.
It's good to remember, when applying for university, that at the end of the day a degree is a degree so you shouldn't be disheartened if you don't get into your number one choice. If you have a degree and complete the necessary training, you are a lawyer - It's as simple as that!
Once you start working in the field of law, it's important to try to maintain a healthy routine and work-life balance. It's okay to not check your emails at 10pm, or to make every meeting even when you're on holiday; spend time doing things for your personal enjoyment too.
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