Career Options for Lawyers

Career Options for Lawyers

Solicitor

After admission to practice, you can choose to work as a solicitor. In fact, most new lawyers begin their careers in this role. 

A solicitor is typically the first point of contact for a person seeking legal advice and assistance. Common responsibilities are:

  • Advising clients about their legal rights and obligations
  • Assisting corporations and other organisations with compliance
  • Preparing legal documents (including wills and contracts)

If you work as a solicitor, you need to consider the type and size of practice you want to work in.

 

 

Type of Practice

Private practices

You may choose to start in private practice as an employed solicitor. This may be with a small, medium or large firm – in the country, suburbs or city. Each type of firm has different opportunities for new lawyers so you need to consider your personal objectives before choosing where you would like to work. 

The career path of a solicitor in private practice typically looks like this:

  • Practical Legal Training
  • Employed solicitor
  • Associate
  • Senior Associate
  • Partner

Sole practices

Unlike other law firms, sole practices have only one principal solicitor who owns the practice and employs other solicitors and staff.

Sole practices make up a large percentage of law firms. Because of the small size of these practices, you are likely to obtain very broad, hands-on experience.

To become a principal (partner) of a law firm or a sole practitioner, you may need to undertake a Legal Practice Management Course to satisfy the requirements of the local Law Society in your state.


Regional firms

There are many benefits to joining a regional firm.

Regional firms generally offer opportunities not available in city law firms – partly in an attempt to attract quality employees. For example, a regional firm will probably give you:

  • More flexible working hours
  • More direct and personal relationships with clients
  • A wider variety of work
  • A faster track to partnership

 

Further Reading

Making Partner and Striking Out with Your Own Firm: Advice from Carla Parsons

Anny Slater, College LLM Student, Wins Solo Practitioner of the Year

Life as a Country Lawyer

 Size of firm

Small firms

With just two to five partners, a small firm will expose you to every area of law that the firm specialises in.

As a graduate lawyer in a small firm, you are likely to have almost immediate responsibility for client briefs – giving you more experience more quickly than at a larger firm.

Medium firms

With six to 20 partners, medium firms have a broader range of work than small firms and sole practices – but often in more specialist areas.

Generally speaking, the larger the firm, the more specialised your work will be. However, you may be able to move from one practice area to another within a medium firm (e.g. from litigation to corporate law).

Large firms

Large firms have more than 20 partners. They often have very structured recruitment, induction and training programs and complex infrastructures. Many large firms also run ongoing legal education and training and pro-bono initiatives.

Compared to smaller firms, large firms tend to offer a wider spectrum of practice areas – especially in commercial law.

 

Further Reading

Large vs Small Law Firms - What's Right for Your Legal Career

Barrister

After admission to practice, you can choose to become a member of the Bar. Barristers receive work by referral from solicitors and are engaged to represent clients in court.

Barristers are generally required to:

  • Have a sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure
  • Determine the appropriate strategy and arguments to be presented in court
  • Give advice on matters of law within their expertise (verbally or in writing)

As a barrister you will operate as an independent legal practitioner and will not work for a firm or in partnership with other barristers. However, you may choose to share chambers (in the same building or floor) with other barristers to save on costs relating to legal secretaries and clerks.

Each state and territory has a Bar Association which prescribes its own practising requirements for barristers.


Further Reading

 Finding A Seat at the Bar

Career options
Career options
Career options

The Courts

Although you may aspire to become a judge or magistrate one day, you may want to consider other roles within the court system – such as a Judge’s Associate.

As a Judge’s Associate you will essentially act as an assistant to the judge. You will prepare and maintain paperwork, undertake research for cases and liaise with other court staff to schedule hearings and set trial dates. You will also sit in court with the judge.

Judge’s Associate positions are generally not advertised and can be very competitive. So if you hear of a vacancy, be sure to submit your resume immediately (directly to the court concerned).

Other support staff roles in the courts include:

  • Registrars
  • Legal assistants
  • Law clerks
  • Legal executives


Further Reading

A Day in the Life of a Judge's Associate

In-House Lawyer Or Counsel

As an in-house lawyer or counsel, you will provide legal advice to the corporation you work for. You will be expected to:

  • Hold expertise in your employer’s area of business 
  • Manage corporate risk and compliance
  • Manage change within the organisation
  • Bring in external counsel where necessary

In-house roles often cover many different areas of law – unlike private practice where the work tends to be more specialised. 

The professional association for in-house lawyers is the Australian Association of Corporate Counsel.

Another key role is company secretary. This is often held by someone with legal qualifications.

community legal centre

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are not-for-profit, community-based organisations that have been advocating for equitable access to the justice system in Australia for over 40 years. CLCs:

  • Provide free legal advice, casework and information to the disadvantaged and to those with special needs
  • Deliver community development services to local or special interest communities
  • Promote law reform and conduct test cases where laws are operating unfairly or are unclear


CLCs often offer PLT placements but also have roles for admitted lawyers. You can
view job opportunities on the NACLC website.

Further Reading

Community Legal Centres: Part #3 CLC Legend, Ria Shah

Community Legal Centres: Part #4 CLC Legend, Andrea Staunton

Government lawyers

Many interesting legal roles exist in government departments, statutory authorities and regulatory bodies. Both federal and state public services have regular graduate intakes – with opportunities in legal, policy, research and advisory positions.

To find jobs in the government sector, you can either:

Federal Government Departments That Recruit Lawyers

Below is a list of federal government departments that recruit lawyers.

Attorney-General’s Department

Delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia's law and justice framework

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Conducts independent merits review of administrative decisions made under Commonwealth laws

Australian Communications and Media Authority

An independent statutory authority that ensures Australia’s media and communications legislation operates effectively, efficiently and in the public interest

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Promotes competition and fair trade to benefit consumers, businesses and the community

Australian Crime Commission

Works with law enforcement partners to improve the ability to stop criminals exploiting emerging opportunities and perceived gaps in law enforcement information

Australian Government Solicitor

A group within the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department that provides legal services to government – a role that it has fulfilled since Federation.

Australian Human Rights Commission

Leads the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia.

Australian Institute of Criminology

Australia’s national research and knowledge centre on crime and justice that aims to promote justice and reduce crime

Australian Law Reform Commission

A federal agency that reviews Australia’s laws to ensure they provide improved access to justice for all Australians

Australian Prudential Regulation Authority

Oversees banks, credit unions, building societies, general insurance and reinsurance companies, life insurance, private health insurance, friendly societies and most members of the superannuation industry

Fair Work Commission

Australia's national workplace relations tribunal

Family Court of Australia

Assists Australians to resolve complex legal family disputes

Federal Court of Australia

The Court is a superior court of record and a court of law and equity

Office of Director of Public Prosecutions

An independent prosecution service established by Parliament to prosecute alleged offences against Commonwealth law

 

Further Reading

I Want Your Job: Q&A With Kate Phillips, Legal Officer, Attorney General's Department

  Summer Intern Diary: Gram Morris, NSW Law Reform Commission

Work Experience With Queensland's Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions