Many people are drawn to a profession in law by the assumption of a high paying job. Due to the complexities of our legal system, and the interest from high achieving students, becoming a lawyer can be a highly competitive undertaking. There are several steps to becoming a lawyer and it involves more than getting through 3-6 years of law school.
Receive a relevant academic qualification
The first step for anyone looking to become a lawyer is getting a relevant academic qualification. Many soon-to-be lawyers seek out the profession as they believe it’s a high paying profession, however as LY Lawyers point out, the compensation of lawyers is commensurate with, and often less than, the earnings of other skilled professionals. The myth that clients are paying legal fees to support a lawyer’s lavish lifestyle is just that — a myth. Most of the fees charged by lawyers pay the expenses of keeping a law office operating.
Obtaining a law degree or diploma can be done a number of ways in NSW. The most common way is completing a degree as an undergraduate. Australian citizens and permanent residents can apply for entry into a law degree with the success of the application depending on the ATAR score of the applicant. Due to the competitive nature of law degrees, the required ATAR score is usually quite high, however there are alternative pathways to get into your desired course.
One such pathway is a Diploma in Law through the Legal Profession Admission Board or the LPAB. The LPAB is designed for those already in the workforce, for people whose ATAR is too low for University, or those who can’t otherwise attend classes.
Practical Legal Training
After receiving the relevant academic qualification, budding lawyers must then complete a practical legal training (PLT) course otherwise known as a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. Many education providers include this as part of the law degree however if this isn’t the case, there are some rules surrounding the entry requirements for the Diploma of Legal Practice.
Firstly, you must apply for admission to practice within 5 years of completing your law degree or diploma. Generally, you must finish the academic qualifications before you can commence this practical element, however, you can apply for an early start.
In order to apply for approval for Early Start (concurrent enrolment) you must:
1. Decide which jurisdiction you wish to be admitted to practice.
2. Apply to the Board to which you will be seeking admission to practice. Generally, your application to the Board must include evidence that you:
a. have completed the Priestley 11 core subjects; and
b. have no more than two electives remaining to complete your LLB/JD; and
c. (in some jurisdictions) have exceptional circumstances to justify the concurrent study of your remaining LLB/JD and the GDLP.
3. Each jurisdiction has a different process to apply for Early Start. Links to each of the Legal Profession/Practitioner Admission Board’s websites regarding the Early Start Rule are provided on the Admissions to practice – steps page.
This practical course can be up to 80 days of supervised legal practice with a lawyer who has at least 3 years of experience and can be completed in 6 months.
Admission to Legal Practice
With your degree and practical legal training complete, it’s time to apply to be admitted into legal practice. In other words, you must prove to the Legal Profession Admission Board that you are fit to be admitted to the Australian Legal Profession. Here’s what you need for your application:
National Police Certificate – a report that shows you have no criminal history in Australia issued from the Australian police force no earlier than six months before your application date.
Character References – Two statutory declarations as to your character made by people who have known you for at least two years and are not related to you. It’s important to include the relevant forms to this section.
Early assessment of suitability – Some people choose to disclose that specific matters will not adversely affect the assessment of their suitability to be admitted. This declaration is usually made several years prior to applying for admission and usually happens when someone is now sure whether they want to pursue law or not. This declaration must be attached to your application.
Student conduct reports – This only applies to those who have been the subject of disciplinary action through university or at PLT. If you have ever been involved in academic or general misconduct, the official reports must be included within your application.
Disclosure statement – A disclosure statement that details anything which may be relevant to the board’s consideration must be included. Whether something is positive or negative, it must be disclosed by you, in writing along with any supporting documents or evidence. Failure to make a full and complete disclosure or an attempt to mislead the board may result in your admission being refused.
Once you have collected these documents, it is simply a matter of signing your application in the presence of an authorised, independent and impartial witness and lodging it with the board, along with a lodgement fee. If successful, you will then attend a ceremony at the Supreme Court, sign the Roll, make an Oath and collect your certificate of Admission.
Getting a job
Now you’re officially a lawyer, it’s time to get a job. There are a lot of ways to land your first role. Perhaps you impressed your supervisor during your PLT and they will invite you back to their office. Alternatively, the internet has produced many avenues for job seekers in all professions. Job boards on sites like Gumtree are sure to provide you with opportunities. Of course, always looking to improve as a lawyer will help you grow and land competitive roles.