Australia’s legal system is derived from British influence, with Australia following a common law system consisting of court-enforced statutes.
Australian states and territories are governed by their own court systems with an overseeing federal body. Australia’s legal system is known internationally for its maturity and history.
The legal industry covers an expanse of sectors, and there are opportunities to become highly specialised. Legal careers have been highly stereotyped by mass media and movies – and while there are certainly some roles with lots of excitement, many are a bit more straightforward!
Legal firms primarily provide legal advice, representation and prepare legal documents for a range of clients.
Most firms are specialised in the support they offer so that they might offer advice and guidance covering:
- Commercial Law Services
- Personal Legal Services
- Industrial Relations Services
- Property Law Services
- Criminal Law Services
- Intellectual property law services
- Community Legal Services
- Administrative, Constitutional and other law services
Solicitors, barristers and legal aid officers typically provide these services within firms or non-profit organisations.
Alternative legal pathways in the industry include dispute resolution, conveyancing and intellectual property services.
As well as independent legal firms who offer their services to various clients, some organisations also have what is referred to as in-house legal teams who deal with all the legal matters for that company. You’ll typically find these types of legal teams based in large international corporations such as banks or local government.
Alongside legal roles in the commercial and private sectors, there is also a large sector of the industry focused on legal aid and working within not-for-profits. These professionals typically work with underrepresented groups or individuals who require support but may not have the means or ability to access the right legal professionals. This sector also involves many career pathways within advocacy and policy development.
The legal industry is a highly regulated field. Entry to becoming a fully registered solicitor, lawyer or barrister will require a bachelor’s degree, alongside postgraduate study and successful completion of professional competency-based exams dependent on the type of legal work you want to do.
That might sound like a lot of work, but a legal career is guaranteed to be rewarding and offer many opportunities to grow professionally.
What You Could Do
Job roles in the industry are varied, as almost every industry is touched on by legal requirements they have to fulfil. As such, legal roles exist to support these industries.
The best way to learn more and help form decisions about the roles available and what you might be suited for is to conduct as much research as you can and build a profile from there.
Here’s a look at some of the top jobs you could pursue:
- Criminal Lawyer: Criminal lawyers represent defendants facing criminal charges in courts. Their scope of practise includes bail bond hearings, plea bargains, trial, revocation hearings (parole or probation), appeals and post-conviction remedies. As part of their job, criminal lawyers investigate the specific case details, interview witnesses, research case law statutes, crimes codes, and procedural law, build a defence and develop a case strategy that best supports their client.
- Solicitor: Solicitors provide advice on legal issues to individuals and businesses. They usually specialise in one or more areas of the law. Solicitors conduct interviews to understand client needs, provide recommendations on courses of action and assist clients in acting on them, investigate and research legal claims, prepare contracts and analyse documents for legal issues. They can also help prepare and execute wills and may provide legal representation in court for clients when there is no need for a barrister.
- Barrister: Barristers are legal professionals who represent clients in court. They also conduct research, provide expert legal advice, confer with clients and witnesses, and act as mediators, arbitrators, referees or conciliators. Barristers receive written information in the form of briefs and verbal instructions concerning cases from solicitors or other legal professionals. They then provide advice, written opinions of legal practice, prepare court proceedings, draw up pleas and other legal documents required for court cases. In some legal cases, barristers are required to represent clients in court and provide arguments on behalf of their clients to secure appropriate legal outcomes. To work as a Barrister you need to complete a law degree, take a Bar Examination and obtain an Australian Practising Certificate (Barrister).
- Conflict Mediator: Mediators facilitate negotiation and settlement between disputing parties by providing direction and encouragement. They work collaboratively with all parties to help them find ways to reach a mutually satisfying solution. Mediators do not represent or advocate for either side in a lawsuit. Their role is to try to bring both parties to a common middle ground. Most mediators specialise in who they work with, for example, family mediators, workplace mediators or criminal mediators.
- Legal Assistant: Legal assistants support lawyers and other legal professions with various tasks, including conducting legal research, drafting and reviewing documents, communicating with clients, preparing hearings, trials, and meetings, and maintaining records and files. Legal assistants are typically highly organised, detail-oriented, and have strong communication skills.
- Paralegal: Paralegals perform legal, regulatory and business-related research for lawyers and other legal professionals. Paralegals usually work for law offices, legal departments or courts and can assist with research, document preparation and general support. Although not admitted to practice law (except for those who have obtained a law degree), paralegals often perform tasks also performed by lawyers. Under the supervision of a senior lawyer, they can run their own files and conduct work that may otherwise be undertaken by a junior lawyer.
- Legal Aid Officer: Legal aid officers provide access to free legal advice and assistance for socially or economically disadvantaged members of a community. Each state or territory has legal aid organisations, who deliver a range of assistance in criminal, family and civil law matters. Legal aid officers might meet with clients face-to-face to discuss individual circumstances, or they may offer guidance over the phone or the internet.
These job roles are only just scratching the surface!
As with many other industries, many additional support roles keep this industry moving, including administrative, accounting, marketing, human resources, and IT professionals.
Graduate Outcomes & Gender Split
To practice and register as a lawyer, solicitor or barrister, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree and professional exams. You may also be required to complete some postgraduate study.
Although a competitive field, graduates who are confident in the industry sector they want to practice intend to do well with employment post-studies.
The Graduates Outcome Survey tracks graduate employment across different industry sectors.
Here’s a look at some graduate outcomes for legal studies:
- Law and Paralegal Studies Graduates in full-time employment: 75.7%
- Law and Paralegal Studies Graduates in employment overall: 85.7%
Keep in mind that this doesn’t account for graduates working part-time and/or who may have continued to higher studies; these are promising percentages!
*Figures from 2020 survey results.
The gender split across the industry depends on the segment of the sector you work within. Historically, the legal industry has been male-dominated but this is beginning to change. Recent statistics indicate the split for solicitors is:
Further research indicates that the more senior roles are still dominated by men with the following gender split for lawyers who are partners at their firm:
Current surveys in the sector indicate the median salaries for full-time roles in this industry as:
- Junior Lawyer: $71-$77,100
- Senior Lawyer: $103-$132,000
- Firm Partner: $184-$230,000
- Solicitor: $83-$98,000
- Barrister: $98-$120,000
- Paralegal: $56-73,000
- Legal Aid Officer: $67-$83,000
Salaries can be pretty varied, with lower expectations for entry-level roles.
Salaries are also determined by several factors, including:
- The segment of the industry you work within.
- Your job title and seniority.
- The amount of experience you have.
- Location, some rural areas may pay less than roles in main cities.
The legal industry as a whole is seen as a stable career market, with some industry sectors growing quicker than others. The number of people working as solicitors grew strongly over the last few years in Australia, from 65,100 in 2014 to 79,300 in 2020.
As with the majority of industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an impact, however, within the legal industry this has resulted in an upturn in the demand for services. This has especially been the case across workforces and organisations, where individuals have faced mass redundancies and where unprecedented times have required legal professionals to step in and support businesses and individuals.
Other growth areas in the industry include arbitration, data protection, environment and planning, financial services regulation, white-collar crime and immigration.
Qualifications and Entry Pathways
To practice as a solicitor, barrister, or lawyer, you will need to complete a minimum four-year bachelor’s degree as a minimum. It’s also common to complete postgraduate study in a specified area of law or the legal system you wish to work in.
In most cases, registration and licences are required.
There are two pathways to pursue a law degree:
- Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
- Juris Doctor (JD)
For some pathways, vocational education and training (VET) courses can offer specialised and valuable springboards into some legal assistant or paralegal careers.
Some qualifications in this area that could help support entry into a career include:
- Certificate III in Business Administration (Legal)
- Certificate IV in Legal Services
Requirements will depend on the type of role you want and the company – so make sure you do some research.
Best Places to Study
Where you choose to study will be dependent on a range of factors, but some universities are rated higher than others for specific subjects.
Some of the best-rated universities for economics and business include:
- The University of Western Australia
- Monash University Law Chambers
- TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland
- University of New South Wales
- University of Sydney
- University of Melbourne Law School
Where to Learn More
You can find out more about different trades and services pathways through professional bodies and organisations advocating for careers in the sector.
Some good places to start include:
And many more!
Each state will also have several professional organisations that can help you learn more about the industry, network, and develop your career.