Whether you are going on a camping trip for a weekend away with friends or thinking about applying to the university of your dreams - Planning and preparation are very important and can help to ensure that you achieve the outcome you are looking for.
This is especially true for as complex and competitive a subject as law. Many Australian students have hopes of studying law at university each year, but a place on a bachelor of law degree course can be heavily contested meaning you will need to pull out all the stops to give yourself the best chance of standing out amongst the crowd.
In this article, we'll look at how you can best prepare to study law, starting with your subject choice during year 11 and 12 in high school, so that you feel confident to tackle your aspiration of becoming a lawyer.
Think Carefully About Your High School Subjects
As a kid, going to school every day can seem boring and pointless, a waste of time where you don't really learn anything that's going to be of practical use in your life - That's simply not true though!
School, especially your final two years of high school, helps you to learn many things and build a lot of essential skills such as:
- Social Skills
- Literacy in English and Maths
- Finding your passion
- Critical thinking skills
- The ability to learn and study independently
These are all very important things to have when moving into adult life and can help you to determine what you might like to do as a career after high school.
Many students will choose to further their education at university after they finish school, and if they know what course they are aspiring to study, choosing the right subjects in your year 11 and 12 exams can help to set you apart from other applicants.
If you dream of starting a career in Architecture, it's smart to study physics and design technology at high school. If you want to be an Accountant, you should probably start with maths and maybe economics.
Preparing to study law at university is no different, you just need to choose the most relevant subjects that can equip you with the right skills to take on to your study at university.
So what high school subjects are relevant to the study of law?
The answer is quite a few actually! Being a lawyer involves a lot of research, contextual source analysis, and critical thinking; So any academic subject that helps you to improve these skills will be of great practical use for you when studying law at university.
To give you a few examples:
- History - Not only is history the best subject to develop your critical thinking and source analysis skills, it also can teach you about the historical context of modern day laws and constitutions, and help you learn the background of how humanity got to the stage we are at
- Geography - Having a good grasp of geography and international culture can bring valuable insight to your work as a lawyer, especially if you aim to campaign for human rights around the globe, whilst also allowing you to better understand your clients from all backgrounds
- English - Strong literacy and communication skills are essential for any successful lawyer, you need to be able to communicate effectively with your client as well as be able to present cases and evidence in a clear and concise manner to a court and jury.
- Science - Any science subject will be helpful to you for developing practical skills such as logic, data analysis, and the ability to record and present the findings of your work.
Taking subjects such as these will provide aspiring law students with the practical skills and knowledge they need to gain entry to a university bachelor degree of law course and start their learning journey to become a lawyer.
It's important to stay focussed and aim to achieve the highest ATAR result you can in order to have the most opportunities when it comes to applying for university courses. As mentioned before, studying law at university can be quite competitive so you want to give your best if you have high aspirations.
For example, a 99.5 ATAR is required for guaranteed entry to study a bachelor of law at Sydney University! Law degrees from other universities can have lower entry requirements though, as low as a 73 ATAR, so it really depends on which university you have your heart set on.
The Journey From Classroom to Courtroom
In Australia, both domestic and international students can expect to spend upwards of 7 years studying law before they are fully qualified to practice as a solicitor or barrister in the Australian legal system.
There are a few key steps involved in the process, starting from gaining your bachelor degree in law which takes about 4 years with full-time study. Once you have graduated from university, you will need to complete a year of practical legal training with a local law authority.
After this, you must apply for a practising certificate from either the Bar or your states' law authority, before completing a further 2 years of on the job training whilst supervised by a senior barrister or solicitor.
Let's take a quick look at these steps to give you a better idea of what is required to be a lawyer.
Getting a Degree in Law
The first step is obvious - You finish high school, apply to university, and start a bachelor or honours degree in law.
What if you're also interested in learning something else alongside it? Or perhaps you've already completed a bachelor degree in another subject?
There are options for this too as many law degrees in Australia are in fact double degrees. This means that you might end up taking a bachelor of commerce or similar alongside your bachelor of law, you just need to make sure that your elective subjects mean that you have a major in law itself in order to practice.
If you have already been to university and completed a bachelor or honours degree in another subject before deciding that you actually want to start a career in law, then there's an accessible pathway just for you!
Known as the Juris Doctor program, many universities offer a 3-year post-graduate course that equips you with the skills, knowledge, and experience to legally practice law in Australia. Again, entry to these courses will be competitive, so it can be useful to have a relevant bachelor degree or have completed work experience in law firms or other areas of the sector.
Post Graduate Training
Once you have gained either a bachelor/honours degree in law or completed the Juris Doctor program, you need to complete 3 years of training to be fully qualified to practice as a lawyer.
The first year of this is known as practical legal training, and you can enrol in a program through your states' legal admissions board.
Practical legal training can be completed one of two ways:
- A year long course which is taught by a practical legal training instructor who is accredited by your states' board
- At least 12 months of supervised legal training in a workplace such as a law firm, as long as the content of the training plan is approved by the board
Each state will have board-approved training providers where you can enrol and complete a course.
Supervised Work Experience
After your practical legal training, you need to apply for a practising certificate from your local law authority. These certificates allow you to practice law in your state or territory, and you need to renew it every year that you work.
If it is your first time applying for the certificate, there is a requirement that you complete up to 2 years of work whilst supervised by a senior barrister or solicitor. You will essentially work as a lawyer, but always have someone with you ensuring that you are doing things correctly and by the book.
Luckily, you'll also get paid for these final 2 years of training, but the salary you get won't compare to when you are a fully qualified lawyer on a full-time salary!
Other Tips to Prepare
Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of the path you need to take to become a practising lawyer in Australia. It may take 7 years and a lot of hard work, but it will all be worth it in the end.
Alongside your academic accomplishments at school and university, there are a couple of other things you can do to improve your chances of being accepted into highly ranked courses and to add to your experience and skills that you can take into your career.
- Keep Sharpening Your Skills - Critical thinking, social skills, communication, and debating are all essential aspects of being a lawyer. Because of this, you should never stop seeking out ways to improve yourself in these areas. Read books by established historians, join groups and events at school and university, and think about joining the debate team!
- Study More Than You're Told To - As much as they try, university lecturers can't teach you everything on their own; you also need to show motivation and a willingness to learn in your own time. Find topics that interest you and research them even if it isn't part of your weekly reading at university
Everything will pay off for you in the end when you can finally start your career in law and make a difference in peoples' lives. Just remember that it's important to keep a healthy work-life balance from the day you start your first job!
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