Becoming a lawyer

Becoming a lawyer in NSW /ACT

Not everyone takes a linear path to becoming a lawyer. There is no right way to become a lawyer. There are many roads that lead to a rewarding career in the law. One of them will be perfect for you, depending on your goals, needs, and interests.

In the guides below, we break down the steps you can take to become a practicing lawyer in Australia.

A lawyer is someone with a legal qualification who may or may not be a ‘legal practitioner’. In NSW and most of Australia, the legal profession is made up of ‘solicitors’ and ‘barristers’.

A solicitor represents and defends their client’s legal interests, and can give advice to their client in many situations. Unless they are a sole practitioner, solicitors work together in a legal practice. Solicitors communicate and provide advice directly to their clients, prepare legal and court documents, and manage cases. Solicitors commonly refer to themselves as lawyers.

A barrister is an expert advocate who represents their client in a court room. They are often ‘briefed’ by a client’s solicitor to provide a specialised legal opinion for the client, or to represent the client in a higher court. Barrister is the most common terminology. If a barrister is a Senior Counsel, they might be referred to as a ‘silk’.

To learn more about the differences between solicitors and barristers, 

Becoming a lawyer

There are four key steps to becoming a lawyer in NSW and the ACT. You need to: graduate from a recognised qualification, complete your practical legal training, be accepted for admission to the Supreme Court, and getting your first legal job.

There are 14 law schools in NSW & the ACT, and 2 non-universities where you can study a recognised legal qualification. To be a lawyer you need to graduate from a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor degree. You can learn about the different types of law degrees in our guide to law degrees.

During law school, you can also gain practical legal experience through:

  • internships and volunteer opportunities;
  • mooting, negotiation and client interviewing competitions; and
  • working as a paralegal or research assistant.

Practical legal training (PLT) is a requirement for admission into the legal profession. In NSW there are 4 recognised PLT providers that offer a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice or similar. In ACT the Australian National University runs an accredited PLT program.

Some law schools offer PLT programs (UTSUNSWANU) which may or may not be integrated into your law degree.

In NSW you must apply to the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB) to be admitted as a Lawyer of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. In the ACT you apply directly to the ACT Supreme Court. Check their websites for the latest admissions calendar.

Applicants for admission will be assessed based on their character and qualifications.

Once your application is accepted, you will attend an admissions ceremony where an admitted lawyer must ‘move’ your admission. You will take the oath or affirmation before signing the Supreme Court Roll and receiving your Certificate of Admission.

To practice as a lawyer (to give legal advice) in NSW/ACT you need to have a valid practising certificate. In NSW you apply for a practising certificate from the Law Society of NSW. In ACT you apply to the ACT Law Society.

For your first two years, you are restricted to supervised legal practice.

To work as a lawyer you need to be employed after you graduate in a law firm, government department, or a corporation with in-house lawyers.

Some graduate lawyer programs include completing your PLT and can be done before you’re admitted. Other graduate lawyer roles require you to be admitted before you start.

Some corporate law firms recruit the majority of their graduates from their clerkship program.

While you can become a barrister immediately after your admission as a lawyer, it is much more common to work as a solicitor for several years before being ‘called to the Bar’.

To become a barrister in NSW or the ACT, you must pass the Bar Exam and the Bar Practice Course run by the NSW Bar Association.

Then, you may apply for your practising certificateIn ACT, you apply to the ACT Bar AssociationYou may then practice as a ‘Reader’ under the supervision of your ‘tutor’ (an experienced barrister). You must practice under supervision for at least 12 months before applying for an unrestricted practicing certificate.

Unlike solicitors, barristers work independently. For convenience, they work in ‘chambers‘ where a group of barristers share an office space, reception, meeting rooms and other office essentials. Rooms within desirable chambers can fill quickly, so it is important to apply early.

The NSW Bar Association offers advice and support for First Nations people interested in joining the Bar.

Questions?

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