Can you see yourself cross-examining witnesses in a courtroom? Do you like a good debate? Do you like reading, research and analysis? Many students see law as offering a secure career in what can be a high-status profession. The reality is that law courses are usually very tough to enter and can involve a great deal of hard work. Careers in law aren’t always as glamorous as they seem either — you are just as likely to end up working as a suburban solicitor as you are strutting around the Supreme Court. Browse Law courses by state
For more information about law and the legal profession, refer to the Law Council of Australia website.If you are interested in this field, you should also consider paralegal studies (almost always easier to get into), the humanities and social sciences, and even areas like communications. If it is the corporate side of things that attracts you, also consider business and management, accounting and economics. If you have a keen sense of social responsibility, consider social work.
VET study in lawCourses in the VET sector do not provide professional qualifications in law. See the paralegal studies profile for information about related courses in justice, security, legal administration and more. VET paralegal studies can act as a pathway into law degrees.
Undergraduate study in lawCourses and specialisationsLaw is a terrific field because it offers the opportunity for intellectual absorption, as well as career preparation. Not everyone who studies law wants to practise in the field. The increase in law students in recent years has caused the LLB to transform from a purely professional degree to a popular generalist qualification. If you don’t want to be a lawyer, there is no question that law offers a great base for you to build on for a wide range of jobs, with employers ranging from accounting firms and government departments to banks and big business. Law is often offered as part of a double degree that takes five or so years to complete and gives graduates a broad education that can be applied in a number of fields.Make sure you know what’s actually involved in a law degree. Too few students have a clear idea of the kind of work involved and how different it can be from popular (and personal) ideas about what legal education involves. A law degree requires many hours of studying and reading — not all of it interesting. While there might be the odd day spent mooting (that is, running pretend cases) in a mock courtroom with wig, gown and all the legal jargon, most of your studies will be spent with the real tools of the trade: legal tomes dedicated to a large number of compulsory subjects. It can take a bit of time to get the hang of it, and some students find they’re not really cut out for it. If your interest is mainly in being a lawyer for corporations, criminals or refugees, you need to know that the majority of the subjects you take will not be in these areas. Although you will get the chance to choose some subjects, about half of them will be the core subjects that are required for admission to legal practice.Now that you know what’s involved, why wouldn’t you do law? For one, it’s tough to get in, especially at the well-known law schools. Another reason is because you are dazzled rather than inspired by the thought of doing a law degree. It is all too easy to be seduced by the glitz or to assume that because you are likely to receive a high tertiary entrance score, you have to go for a course like law, which also has a high score. Be honest with yourself: have you really looked closely at the course and career options? Is law a considered choice, one that really feels right for you? If you are convinced that law is for you, this is our advice:
Shop with care because courses vary in style and quality. Legal education today is better than it was, but a lot of it remains detailed and difficult to fully understand. Some schools might be better than others at bringing it to life with problem-based methods. Across the board, courses seem to be improving, but graduates rate their skills and overall course experience better than the teaching quality (see below). In addition, your school’s reputation and your involvement in societies and extracurricular work will be important for your career to flourish. Make sure the connections and the infrastructure at your school are right if this is your chosen pathway.
Consider all of your course options. You could do law as a postgraduate course after you have gained some experience studying or working in a different field. It is also possible to be admitted to practice in NSW by completing the Legal Profession Admission Board’s examinations, which leads to the award of the board’s Diploma in Law. An accredited course of study to help students prepare for these exams is available through the University of Sydney’s Law Extension Committee (LEC). The diploma covers much the same curriculum as a degree, but the program offered through the LEC is more flexible and accessible. The course is also much cheaper compared to most degrees, and the entry criteria are broader.
Keep your options open. Law has been a glamour field for a number of years. Although growth has been more measured lately, demand continues to outstrip supply and cut-offs continue to soar. It’s easy to miss out, so be prepared to put in applications for courses interstate or in regional centres.
Don’t assume that you will be able to get a job as a lawyer: the field is getting crowded. But remember that many law courses are now part of a combined degree (law plus arts, business or languages, for example), so you can enhance your competitiveness in the labour market with a well-chosen combination.
Don’t forget that to practise as a lawyer you have to undertake practical training upon completing your degree, either through a ‘traineeship’ (a kind of apprenticeship) at a law firm or through a special course, usually of about six months.
A new degree structure, which has already been established at selected institutions, has the potential to become more common in legal education for undergraduates. The structure follows a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general pre-professional degree (perhaps in business, commerce or arts) and then transfer to a graduate qualification in law (often called a juris doctor).Where to studyLaw degrees are available at most universities. Some even offer their degrees through distance or online education. If you are interested in one of the less common combinations (law and medicine, for example) then you may only have a few institutions to choose from. At undergraduate level, law is not available at private higher education providers.See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.Career opportunitiesAccording to the 2014 Course Experience Questionnaire survey, law graduates were not happy with the way their courses were taught, despite rating the skills they gained highly. Nearly a quarter of graduates go onto further study. Among those who do seek work, employment prospects are quite good, with only 25 per cent of graduates having trouble finding work and starting salaries sitting at $55,405. Law graduates are also said to gain salary increases more than three times those of other professionals (teachers, for example) in the five years following their graduation. In short, as things now stand, a law degree does your career prospects no harm, but it all depends on what you want — there is no guarantee of a spot at the major city firm of your dreams!See the Career Search for more information about your career options.
Postgraduate study in lawCourses and specialisationsThere are a few different types of law programs at postgraduate level, which cater to different types of students. Programs designed for those with a degree in other fields who want to qualify as legal professionals (commonly known as a juris doctor) are increasing in popularity at postgraduate level but are still in the minority. There are also a number of programs offering practical legal training for law graduates that enable them to gain admission to practise as a lawyer and ensure they are equipped with the skills they need. Most other coursework programs are aimed at members of the profession and law graduates wanting to add specialist expertise to their professional skill-base in areas such as environmental law (especially popular in recent times), corporate law, Asian law and media law, among others. Some (usually lower-level) programs also enable professionals from other fields to brush up on legal knowledge for application in their field of work — in areas such as media law, for example. Apart from the many postgraduates in coursework programs, some graduates are completing professional doctorates, which combine coursework with research, and a few are doing pure research degrees.Where to studyAt postgraduate level, you will find law courses offered at both universities and some private providers that specialise in the field. If you are contemplating a research degree, you are likely to be better off looking at departments and schools that have an established research program in your area of interest. Take care not to assume that the academics will be better at the older law schools — there are many areas of research in law, and one institution cannot be the best at them all. Make sure that your potential supervisors are the best in their field and that you have access to all the resources you will need. To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.Career opportunitiesAccording to the national Course Experience Questionnaire survey, law postgraduates rated the teaching quality and the generic skills they gained poorly, but were quite satisfied with their overall course experience, rating it four stars. Graduates had good employment prospects, with 82 per cent of graduates finding work within four months of course completion. Salaries were also at the upper end of the scale, at $80,465 per year. See the Career Search for more information about your career options.