Law Degrees Explained

Law Degrees Explained

What are the different law degrees and what do they mean?
To become a lawyer in Australia you need to complete a  recognised legal qualification. Law degrees can be studied at an undergraduate level (meaning you are not already a university graduate) or at a postgraduate level. 

Steps to becoming a lawyer - A young female Indigenous law student stands at a lectern in the NSW Banco Court, speaking in a mooting competition.

The most common undergraduate law degree is the Bachelor of Laws (LLB). High school leavers, mature aged students, and university graduates can all gain entry into an LLB.

The postgraduate law degree is called a Juris Doctor (JD). Only people who already have a university degree can gain entry into a JD.

To become a practicing lawyer, you also need to complete a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), or similar degree. This forms part of your mandatory Practical Legal Training (PLT).

Did you know that there are also research and advanced coursework degrees in law? These include: 

  • Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
  • Master of Laws (by coursework, or research)
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Law

Is the LLB for you?

An ‘undergraduate’ degree is your first degree from university. If you have recently graduated from high-school or you have never graduated from a university or tertiary institution before, then an undergraduate course is for you. 

Studying LLB at the undergraduate level prepares students for a broad range of career options, such as practising as a solicitor or barrister; becoming a business strategist, government policy advisor or entrepreneur; and/or working for national and international organisations, such as the United Nations. 

General information about a LLB

A stand-alone LLB can be completed within 3 to 4 years, depending on your university

Many universities only offer Combined Law degrees at the undergraduate level. This involves doing a double degree in Law and another discipline. 

You might choose to combine your LLB with a Bachelor of Arts, Social Sciences, Business, Commerce, International Relations, Science or Engineering.

Combined or Double degrees can generally be completed in 5 years. They are a great way to expand your knowledge and skills, and complement your legal expertise.

Keep in mind that additional requirements – such as Practical Legal Training (PLT) – must be met before graduates of LLB degrees can practice as lawyers in NSW

The JD is a graduate-entry law degree that can be completed in 2 to 3 years, depending on your university.

Juris Doctors cover the same content as the undergraduate LLB, but with higher expectations on student’s performance and professionalism as university graduates and/or working professionals.

Advantages of studying law in a JD include: studying law on its own without combining with a second degree at the undergraduate level, studying law when you are more experienced and skilled at research and writing, and being eligible for the Masters rate of ABSTUDY allowance.

Not all universities offer JD programs. Below are some universities in NSW/ACT where you can study a JD:

Honours in LLB is a research program or study intended to provide students with research skills and recognition of outstanding academic achievements.

An Honours can be undertaken as an additional 1-year program (on top of your degree) or it can be incorporated into your degree in place of final year electives. 

There is generally a requirement that you receive a minimum average mark to be eligible to do Honours. This will depend on your individual university.

If you want to become a legal practitioner, you must complete an accredited program of Practical Legal Training (PLT) once you graduate from your LLB or JD. 

Below is a list of approved PLT programs in NSW that provide students with vocational legal education to help them develop practical skills needed to become a lawyer:

Legal professionals can continue to develop their skills, or up-skill in a particular area, by studying a Master of Laws (LLM).

An LLM is designed for graduate law students or law professionals who want to obtain expertise and in-depth knowledge about a specialised area of law.

A Master of Laws generally takes 1 – 1.5 years (full-time) to complete. They can be taken as coursework degrees, similar to a JD or LLB where students learn and are assessed on particular content.

A Master of Laws can also be taken as a research degree, where students independently research their chosen topic for their LLM thesis.

A successful LLM by research is an entry pathway into a PhD in Law. Students with a LLB (Honours) or LLM may pursue a PhD In Law if they are interested in a career in legal academia, or becoming an expert in a particular legal field.

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