What Is a Legal Advisor? (Definition, Skills and Career Steps)
Updated 3 May 2023
Professionals interested in entering the legal field have a variety of career paths they can choose from. One of these paths is becoming a legal advisor who is a professional that provides internal legal advice for large organisations. Learning more about this career could help you determine whether it's something you want to pursue. In this article, we explain what a legal advisor is, how you can become one and how this role differs from that of a lawyer.
What is a legal advisor?
A legal advisor, also called a legal counsellor, is a professional who provides legal advice to organisations. They work internally, or in-house, advising their business on legal matters. They can work for a variety of organisations, including:
Individual departments in large businesses
Within these organisations, they may specialise in a particular area of law or provide general legal advice. They may specialise or advise in the following areas:
Real estate law
Mergers and acquisitions
What does a legal advisor do?
Legal advisors provide legal advice and guidance for their company. Their duties can vary depending on their legal speciality and employer, but common responsibilities include:
Advising managers and business leaders on legal matters and decisions
Reviewing laws and ensuring the organisation follows local guidelines
Researching current laws and staying updated on changes
Overseeing internal litigation and legal paperwork
Drafting, reviewing and negotiating contracts for the company
Writing legal documents, including statements and agreements
Protecting an organisation's trademarks and patents
Differences between a legal advisor and a lawyer
A legal advisor and a lawyer are similar career paths that share many responsibilities and requirements, but it's important to understand how these two roles differ. A legal advisor is a type of lawyer who specialises in providing in-house counsel. A lawyer often works in a courtroom, and they may represent a variety of clients. In court, they may defend or argue on the behalf of their clients. A legal advisor works directly for one company, and they advise that client on legal matters, manage legal paperwork and review laws.
Legal advisor skills
A legal advisor uses a specialised set of hard and soft skills to perform their daily tasks. Some important skills to possess in this career include the following:
Written communication: Legal advisors often draft legal documents, including contracts, statements and patent agreements. They can use written communication skills to produce clear, effective writing.
Verbal communication: A legal advisor often meets with their clients to advise them on legal matters. They can use verbal communication skills to explain their research and provide detailed advice.
Active listening: Active listening skills can help legal advisors communicate effectively with their clients. A successful legal advisor can listen attentively and understand a client's needs and questions.
Research skills: Clients may ask their legal advisor to research certain laws or conditions. A legal advisor can use research skills to find the latest information from reputable resources.
Attention to detail: Legal advisors can use attention to detail to help them write accurate and error-free documents. Attention to detail can also help them find legal information.
Organisation skills: A legal advisor can handle a variety of legal matters for one client, including contracts, trademarks and real estate law. A legal advisor can use organisational skills to keep their documents and research neat and accurate.
Computer skills: A legal advisor often works with computer programs, including word processing software, billing platforms and other client software. They can use a variety of computer skills and technical knowledge to create contracts, read legal documents and produce statements.
Technical legal knowledge: Legal advisors can use technical legal knowledge to provide expert advice for their clients. They should know the current guidelines for their industry and legal specialty so they can provide accurate guidance.
Related: Hard Skills vs Soft Skills
How to become a legal advisor
If you're interested in becoming a legal advisor, consider following these steps:
1. Earn a degree in law
A legal advisor must hold a law degree to practise in Australia. You may choose from two pathways when pursuing your legal degree. After completing high school, you may enter a Bachelor of Laws program. This is the most common education pathway for aspiring lawyers. These programs typically take three to four full years to complete. To qualify, you need a high Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). If you have a bachelor degree in a different field, or if you are changing careers, you can instead pursue a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. These programs typically take two years to complete.
Both degree types can help prepare aspiring legal advisors for their future careers. At the beginning of their legal education, students learn about general law concepts. As they progress, they can take electives for specialised legal areas. If you're considering specialising in a certain area, such as contract law or patent law, consider taking these electives to help you develop your industry knowledge and technical skills.
2. Complete training program
After graduating with a legal degree, you may need to complete a training program where you can earn a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. During this training, you can gain practical experience and further your education. Consider reviewing your state or territory's guidelines to see the specific requirements for your area. Typically, aspiring lawyers need to take an online course and complete at least 80 days of work training experience.
This training typically takes less than a year to complete, although it can vary depending on your area and the program you select. It can also vary depending on your educational pathway. If you earn a bachelor's degree in law, you most likely need to earn your Graduate Diploma in a separate program, but some JD programs include this training as part of the degree study. If you apply to one of these programs, you may complete your training in your final year or immediately after earning your law degree.
3. Complete supervised work training
Depending on your state and territory, you may also need to complete a clerkship or supervised work training. This typically lasts 18 to 24 months. During this time, you work under the supervision of a practising lawyer. They can provide you with feedback and help you improve your skills. In some areas, your Graduate Diploma may replace the need for a clerkship, so consider checking your local guidelines to ensure you meet all requirements.
Read more: What Is On-the-Job Training?
4. Gain admission from your state or territory
Each state or territory has an Admissions Authority that reviews aspiring lawyers credentials before they begin their careers. You can check the guidelines in your area to ensure you meet the specific requirements. Typically, the Admissions Authority reviews a candidate's law degree and Graduate Diploma to ensure they've completed sufficient education and training.
5. Apply for a practising certificate
To work as a legal advisor, you can apply for your practising certificate through your state or territory. This allows lawyers to practise law in courts and to provide legal services to businesses and organisations. The certificate allows you to perform legal services in your state or territory. If you move or want to work in a new area, you will need to reapply for a new certificate in that location.
6. Gain experience
After gaining your practising certificate, you can begin working as a legal advisor or lawyer in your area. Consider exploring open entry-level positions to help you further develop your legal skills. You may begin working directly at a corporation or government agency in an advisor position. Many large organisations prefer to hire experienced lawyers to provide their in-house counsel, so consider developing your skills in an adjacent role, such as a solicitor or barrister.
7. Apply for advanced roles
As you develop your skill set, consider applying to advanced roles in legal advising. You can create a CV highlighting your experience, education and relevant certifications. This can help show a prospective employer that you've completed the requirements to become a legal advisor.
When applying for positions, consider your interests, educational background and specialities to help you find the right role for you. For example, if you have experience in real estate law, you may seek employers in the real estate industry or agencies that often work with real estate regulations. If you studied contract law, you may pursue roles at large businesses.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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