How To Become a Lawyer in Australia

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 September 2022 | Published 26 May 2021

Updated 14 September 2022

Published 26 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming a lawyer is a fulfilling choice for people who want to make a difference in the lives of others and advance in their careers. Lawyers need expert legal knowledge gained through many years of dedicated study. Learning more about the educational requirements and job duties can help you decide whether this career path is right for you. This article discusses what lawyers do, their average salary and how to become one in Australia.

What does a lawyer do?

A lawyer gives individual or business clients legal advice. There are two types of lawyers: solicitors and barristers. Solicitors perform straightforward legal duties, such as preparing and reviewing wills and contracts. They may also prepare documents before and during court cases. They do most of their work in an office setting, although they may sometimes appear in the Magistrates' Court.

Barristers represent clients in tribunals or superior courts, such as the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. They work on complex cases that go to trial, advocating for compensation and defending clients accused of wrongdoing. Solicitors may seek the assistance of barristers to win complex cases.

Solicitors and barristers can both work in different legal areas including:

  • Real estate

  • Family law

  • Estate planning

  • Corporate law

  • Civil litigation

  • Criminal law

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Average lawyer salary

The average salary for a lawyer in Australia is $101,816 per year. As they handle more complex cases, barristers usually earn more than solicitors. Salaries also vary depending on the lawyer's experience, area of specialty and location. Lawyers in some states and territories make more than the national average, including lawyers in:

  • Queensland: $108,181 per year

  • Victoria: $106,632 per year

  • New South Wales: $102,729 per year

How to become a lawyer

Lawyers satisfy strict education and training requirements before practising. Follow these steps to become a lawyer in Australia:

1. Earn a legal degree

Completing a bachelor's degree in law after graduating from high school is the simplest option. Entry into this degree is competitive, so you will need a high Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). A Bachelor of Law is a three- or four-year full-time undergraduate degree. You can also study this degree part-time if you prefer.

If your ATAR does not qualify you for a bachelor's degree in law, you could complete another degree first, then earn your Juris Doctor degree. This two-year full-time post-graduate degree caters for students from non-legal study backgrounds. People who change careers to become lawyers and international lawyers with qualifications earned abroad often obtain Juris Doctor degrees.

Both degrees teach students the fundamental legal knowledge and skills they'll need to work as lawyers. Their courses explain legal concepts and systems in Australia and overseas.

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2. Complete practical legal training

Practical legal training provides hands-on legal experience before you start practicing. This is usually a separate training program, called a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, which is completed after graduating with a legal degree. However, some Juris Doctor degree programmes integrate practical legal training into their coursework. Your state or territory's Legal Admissions Board can help you find a practical legal training course provider. Completing practical legal training involves some online study and up to 80 days of practical training with an experienced lawyer. The entire process usually takes less than a year.

3. Get approval from your local state or territory Admissions Authority

Your local state or territory's Admissions Authority must approve your qualifications. This approval makes you a lawyer of the Supreme Court of your state or territory. Seek approval within five years of graduating with your legal degree. You can represent yourself in some parts of the country, while others need legal counsel for this process.

4. Obtain a practising certificate

If you plan on working as a solicitor, apply for a Practising Certificate from your state or territory's Law Society. This certificate lets you practise law in your state or territory. Many aspiring barristers complete this step and work as solicitors for a few years to familiarise themselves with legal processes and build their professional networks before becoming self-employed. However, if you prefer you could simply enrol in the bar practice course and pursue this more advanced career path.

Your practising certificate lets you work as a solicitor in your state or territory. If you move to another state or territory, you must contact the relevant law society and apply for a new certificate. You must also cancel your existing practising certificate.

5. Complete supervised practice

As a new solicitor, you must work under the supervision of a practicing lawyer for about 18 to 24 months. This period provides practical experience interacting with clients, researching cases and creating legal documents. Your supervisor will check your work and provide regular feedback so you can learn from any mistakes before working independently. If you know which area of law you want to specialise in, apply for supervised practice with a firm that focuses on that area.

6. Work independently as a solicitor

After completing supervised practice, you can work as a practicing solicitor. Many law firms hire their supervised practice lawyers, as they already know the firm's procedures and clients. However, if they have no vacant positions or you want to experience a different firm, you may apply for other vacant lawyer roles. You may also start your own practice.

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7. Pursue advancement opportunities

Lawyers can continue working as solicitors throughout their careers or pursue advancement opportunities. If you have an area of interest, you may decide to study a master's degree in law. This one-year post-graduate degree lets students study a specific legal area, such as insurance law or corporate law, in great detail. After graduating, you can then specialise in your focus area or become a law professor.

Many solicitors who enjoy court work become barristers. To become a barrister, enrol in the bar practice course, then pass your state and territory's bar exam. Passing the bar exam lets you enrol in your state or territory's Readers' Course.

After completing this eight-week course, you will work under the supervision of one or two senior barristers, known as tutors, for at least seven months, depending on your state or territory. You can accept briefs during this time. After completing the mentorship program, you can practise as an independent barrister in any state or territory, regardless of where you sat your bar exam.

Barristers start working as a junior counsel. If you show superior skill and conduct, you may receive a promotion to senior counsel. Exemplary senior counsels may become Queen's counsels.

Barristers, especially senior counsels and Queen's counsels, may become judges and magistrates. If you want one of these senior roles, you can submit an expression of interest to a vacant position advertised through your state or territory's Law Society or Bar Association. Alternatively, someone may nominate you for a judge or magistrate position. The Governor in Council appoints magistrates and judges recommended by each state and territory's attorney general.

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Frequently asked questions about becoming a lawyer

Here are the answers to some common questions about becoming a lawyer:

How long does it take to become a lawyer?

You can become a supervised practising solicitor in as little as four years after graduating high school. However, the process can take longer if you study a four-year degree or get a Juris Doctor degree, rather than a Bachelor of Law degree, or study part-time. Allow at least five years after graduating high school to become a barrister. Times vary depending on local requirements, when you can sit the bar exam and whether you work as a solicitor before advancing your career.

How do I prepare for the bar exam?

After registering for the bar exam, you'll receive a recommended reading list and other relevant materials. Read through these carefully to learn the topics tested in the exam. Each state and territory's bar association also runs tutorials that can help you prepare in the weeks before your exam.

What is the format of the bar exam?

The bar exam comprises two papers with short and long answer questions. You'll have 30-minutes' reading time and two hours to complete each paper.

What is the pass mark for the bar exam?

In all states and territories, you must score at least 75% to pass the bar exam. You may sit the bar exam again if you score less than 75%.

Are lawyers in demand?

There is very strong future growth predicted for solicitors and barristers. Job Outlook predicts there will be 92,800 solicitors working in Australia in 2024, up from 79,300 in 2019. Strong job growth is also expected for barristers, with their numbers rising from 9,000 in 2019 to 10,400 in 2024. Demand should continue in the future as individuals and businesses in all industries need legal help.

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