Whether you are an Aussie or planning to move to Australia to follow your dream of becoming a lawyer, there are some things you should know about this journey. The process of becoming a lawyer in Australia is similar to the one from other English-speaking countries, but there are some small differences you need to keep in mind.
Every Australian state has its own law certification requirements, so the entire process may depend on the location. Another difference, when compared to the American system, for example, is that you will find it very common in Australia for undergraduate and graduate law education to be combined into one single program.
So, without further ado, what is the process of becoming a lawyer in Australia, and what should you keep in mind once you get your practicing certificate?
Step 1: Study the Right Subjects
Ideally, the journey to becoming a lawyer should start in high school. This is where you will be able to study all the subjects that will prepare you for university. While your major subjects in high school are not exactly the ones determining your future, and career changes can happen at any time, it will be ten times easier if you don’t go from a biology major straight into law school.
Ideally, if you are planning on studying law, English should be your major in high school. Writing, history, psychology, and maths can also represent huge advantages, as well as literature.
But if you ended up choosing different subjects throughout high school, worry not, as you can always get a tutor, sign up for online courses, or study all of these things by yourself. Sure, it will be a tad bit more difficult, but definitely not impossible. You can use the internet to your benefit and find plenty of courses to help you get in line with your future colleagues.
Step 2: Choose Your University with Care
You can twist your fate a bit if you ended up choosing some not-so-helpful subjects in high school, but if you want to become a lawyer, getting your degree is paramount. This is where Australian students have an advantage over US law students. In the US, students who want to get their law degree need to spend a total of seven years in school. They need to first complete their Bachelor’s degree, which takes four years, then complete their Juris Doctor degree, which takes another three years.
For Aussies, the situation is a bit simpler, as you have two degree types to choose from. You need to either complete your Bachelor of Law degree (LLB), which takes 4 years, or a combined LLB, which takes 5+ years to complete. This means you can become a lawyer after only 4 years of school.
When selecting the university, don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Consider applying for multiple schools and only decide on the one you like most after you get your acceptance letters. Amongst top Law Schools in Australia are:
- University of Melbourne Law School – Australia’s oldest laws school, ranked 7th in the world in 2019;
- University of Sydney – Sidney Law School – offers a variety of law programs, including postgraduate Juris Doctor and an undergraduate Combined Law program;
- UNSW Law – University of New South Wales – a top-tier university in the country, amongst Australian “Group of Eight”;
- The University of Western Australia – 6th oldest university in Australia, providing one of the best programs for international students.
Step 3: Sign Up for Internships
Unfortunately, becoming a lawyer is close to impossible if you don’t sign up for internships or clerkships. While in some parts of the world an internship is not mandatory, in Australia they are very important, especially if you want to get the attention of some of the Big Six law firms.
If you are certain that becoming a lawyer is your ultimate goal, then you must be willing to do just a bit more during the summer than just sit around. Ask your university or look online for volunteer programs and internships, such as the one provided by the Australian Federal Court, which has a three month volunteer program that allows you to gain some much-needed practical experience.
Keep in mind that after graduation, you will also need to accumulate Continuing Professional Development units every year, if you want to keep your certification, so it’s better to start establishing some connections from early on. This way, you won’t need to run around finding the best legal CPD Melbourne has to offer, while also stressing out and trying to win your first cases.
Step 4: Get Certified
After at least four years of studying, you may be thinking that your journey will be over soon. Well, not so fast. There is one more step you need to take, in order to practise law in Australia – get admitted to practice.
To get certified, you need to complete your final program, the Practical Legal Training (PLT), where soon-to-be lawyers learn the practical skills they need to become fully certified professionals.
Now, there are three different ways you can complete your PLT, depending on some factors:
- Getting a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP): to get your GDLP, you need to both complete a formal coursework and gather enough practical work experience. Usually, a GDLP takes between 6 to 12 months to complete, and the good news is, you can start it before you graduate, provided you complete all of your mandatory law courses.
- Getting certified through Supervised Workplace Training: unfortunately, this is only available in Queensland and Victoria and takes at least 12 months to complete.
- Clerkship: this is the least common way to get a PLT, as it usually requires you to have a legal job. It takes at least 12 months to complete.
After completing your PLT, you need to apply for admission, and get a practicing certificate. The entire process takes between one and two years, depending on the route you choose to take.
Step 5: Secure Your First Job
Congratulations! Now, you are a certified lawyer, ready to build a name for oneself. Your final task is to secure your first job. If you did your homework well during university, chances are you already received a number of offers by now.