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What Does a Lawyer Do?

Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a lawyer? Maybe you’ve even envisioned the prospect for yourself! 

Either way, you’ve come to the right place and we’re glad you’re here.

We’ve seen them on our screens, we know that they uphold the law, but what does a lawyer actually do? And what does it take to become one?

Let’s find out! 

Meet Jessica
What is a Lawyer?
Steps to Becoming a Lawyer
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Lawyers

Meet Jessica

Jessica is a Graduate Insurance Litigation Lawyer at Mason Black Lawyers.

Lawyer - Interviewee Quote

Studies and Experience

To get to where she is now, Jessica graduated from Macquarie Uni with a Bachelor of Law and a Bachelor of Commerce. 

“I enjoyed university as I felt that regardless of how much work had to be done, Macquarie University provided ample resources and assistance throughout the entirety of the course,” Jessica said. 

Postgraduate Studies

After graduating, Jessica undertook postgraduate studies at The College of Law in St Leonards. 

“Following university, I went on to complete my Practical Legal Training (PLT) at the College of Law. The course itself takes 15 weeks to complete, with one week being at the College itself and approximately 14 weeks being online,” Jessica explained. 

Jessica told us that she thought the course taught valuable content and while the assessments were doable, submitting so many tasks each week proved to be a little difficult. 

Jessica explained, “The most difficult part of college was juggling full-time work with the copious amounts of assessments to submit weekly. The assessments were not hard. However, allocating time to submit approximately 4-5 assessments per week was a struggle. Nonetheless, alike Macquarie, the College of Law provided students with everything required to complete the assessments to a high standard.” 

PLT Requirements

Jessica told us that the Practical Legal Training that she completed through The College of Law required 75 days of practical legal work to successfully complete the course. It helped that Jessica had undertaken work experience in the past which she could use to progress through the program!

“I was able to use my previous experience which allowed me to complete my PLT and obtain my certificates expeditiously, allowing me to progress to my admission,” Jessica said. 

After completing the recommended training, Jessica was admitted as a lawyer! 

What made you want to work in this industry?

Like most aspiring lawyers, the desire to help people and bring fairness and justice to all cases was a big motivating factor for Jessica.

“What attracted me to becoming a lawyer was the intellectual challenges involved with helping others. I have always been a problem-solver, so for me, there is nothing more rewarding!” Jess explained. 

So, if you consider yourself a critical thinker and an empathetic person drawn to helping people, maybe becoming a lawyer is something that you should consider! 

What is a Lawyer?

To put it simply, a lawyer is someone who practices law. They’ve spent large amounts of time understanding and researching law so that they can apply their knowledge to particular situations. Lawyers will help solve disputes between different parties usually on account of unfair treatment, illegal practice or injustice. 

To be considered a practicing lawyer, you’ll have to study the subject, complete the necessary legal training and be admitted through your state or territory. A lawyer will advise and represent other people in legal matters.

Lawyers may specialise in:

    • Property law 
    • Family law 
    • Criminal law 
    • Personal injury law 

Whatever a lawyer does, they are pretty essential to a fair and functioning society as they strive to uphold justice wherever possible. 

What kinds of roles and responsibilities do lawyers have?

We put the question to Jessica who promptly told us:

“Reading, reading, reading. The rumours are true, to become a lawyer, you need to prepare yourself for a significant amount of reading — but luckily for us lawyers, university did a great job of preparing us for that! Everyday there is something new you can learn, regardless of how long you have been practising for. New cases, new regulations, new procedures — it never ends.” 

“Apart from that, an average day, depending on your field would be:

    • Travelling to and from court 
    • Emailing 
    • Meeting with clients and counsel 
    • Deep case analysis, and finally,
    • Coffee, a lot of it.”

So, if you’re ready to spend your days in court, representing clients and drinking far too much coffee — the law world is your oyster! 

But, seriously, being a lawyer involves a lot of tough responsibility.

Which industries can this career be found in?

According to Job Outlook, the industries where lawyers are most in demand are professional, scientific and technical services, public administration and safety, as well as financial and insurance services. 

So, pretty much everywhere! 

The professional, scientific and technical services are way up there, with 80% of the industry share! This specific sector comprises:

    • Legal services 
    • Accounting, tax and payroll services 
    • Computer systems design
    • Scientific research and development 
    • Advertising
    • Architecture and engineering 

Lawyers are found in virtually any industry you can think of. There are always going to be disputes within households, between businesses, amongst clients and that’s where a lawyer comes in. 

Lawyer? Barrister? Solicitor? What’s the difference! 

I didn’t know until I did a quick internet search either so don’t worry, we’re here to break it down. Or maybe you did already know and I’m just late to the game. If so, keep scrolling!

The word ‘lawyer’ is pretty much an overarching term that encompasses all legal professionals. This means that someone who calls themselves a lawyer could really be either a barrister or a solicitor. 

Calling yourself a lawyer is kind of just an easy way to tell someone that you’re qualified to provide legal services and advice. It’s the name told to those of us who don’t know what a barrister or a solicitor is… 

What’s a solicitor?

Pretty much, a solicitor is a kind of lawyer that’s responsible for the general management and administration of a case.

A solicitor may be involved in an initial legal appointment, they might provide advice and write the technical documents that a particular case requires. They traditionally conduct the majority of their work in a firm or office. 

What’s a barrister?

While a solicitor spends most of their time in the firm, a barrister is the one that usually spends their time actually representing the clients in the courtroom.

A barrister will act on behalf of another person during a serious case in front of a judge and jury. So, a barrister is mainly on call for serious criminal offences or may help someone out if they don’t know whether to plead guilty or not guilty. 

Characteristics and Qualities 

Lawyer - Characteristics

According to JobOutlook, the main skills required for a lawyer include:

    • Reading comprehension 
    • Speaking 
    • Critical thinking 
    • Writing 
    • Active listening 

You’re also going to have to know a lot about how the law works and you’ll have to be able to apply that knowledge judiciously. 

However, don’t worry if you don’t think you have mastered these skills just yet! Not only will the years of studying law at uni help, but practical work experience is also essential before you’re going to feel confident in these skills. 

We put the same question to Jessica, a practicing lawyer, and she told us the big three skills that she thinks are most needed include people skills, clear communication and organisation. 

Steps to Becoming a Lawyer

Becoming a lawyer is going to involve a lot of studying, research and dedication but if you’re willing to put in the hard yards, we have every hope that you’ll get there!

What should you study? 

Below, we’ve laid out a 4-step plan that’ll get you to becoming a practicing lawyer in no time (well, it will take a bit of time, actually)!

#1: Study an undergrad law degree or a postgrad JD 

There are two main pathways that students typically take to become lawyers. The first involves going straight into a Bachelor of Laws degree after high school. These courses are generally pretty competitive and require a high ATAR (usually mid to high 90s).

Some of the different universities that offer a Bachelor of Laws course include:

 

Depending on where you study, a law degree will usually take 4 years to complete. 

Your second option is to complete a Juris Doctor (JD) degree which is usually a 3 year program that you’re able to complete as a graduate student. This means that while it’ll take a little longer, you’ll get the chance to study the undergrad degree of your choosing!

It’s a great option for those who want to broaden their knowledge and skill set or just aren’t sure whether a law degree is something they can commit to just yet. 

Both the Bachelor of Laws and the Juris Doctor will qualify graduates to practice law. The only difference is the time and that the Bachelor of Laws is for students straight out of high school and the JD is for university graduates. 

#2: Complete a Practice Legal Training

The next step once you’ve finished your university qualifications is to enrol in and undertake the required Practical Legal Training. As we mentioned, Jessica did hers at The College of Law. 

Practical Legal Training is a program that develops students’ confidence in practical legal skills so that you’ll become proficient in applying them to real life situations. In NSW, the Practice Legal Training includes workplace experience as well as supervised training.

#3: Apply for admission to legal practice

Finally, to finish it all off, you’ll have to apply to your relevant state’s admissions authority within 5 years of graduation. If you’re in NSW, you can have a browse here

#4: Choose between barrister or solicitor 

As we mentioned before, there are quite a few differences between a barrister and solicitor in the legal world. At this point in your journey to becoming a lawyer, you’ll have to make the decision whether you’d like to practice as a barrister or solicitor. 

You’ll be able to start applying for entry-level jobs if you’re keen on becoming a solicitor but if becoming a barrister is what you’re most keen on, you’ll need to complete the additional requirements through your state’s Bar Association. 

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re there! It’s a pretty big commitment but if you think you’ve got what it takes, give it a shot! 

How long does it take to become a Lawyer?

Overall, you’re looking at a minimum of 6 years of study to become a practicing lawyer. 

Industry Knowledge

Jessica explained that, “A lot of industry knowledge you will learn on the job and for entry-level positions such as legal assistant jobs or paralegal jobs, you will not be expected to have knowledge but rather, genuine interest in the field.” 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, you’re not going to need to possess the skills, characteristics or the industry knowledge that we’ve mentioned just yet. Instead, as Jessica confirmed, they’re traits and abilities that you’ll learn through experience. As long as you’re passionate and dedicated, you’ve got this! 

“In terms of software knowledge, university has prepared a lot of us for the use of LexisNexis and the like. Unfortunately, we do not learn how to use more specialised programs such as PEXA which a lot of firms seek,” Jessica said. 

She added that, “For entry-level positions, my experience is that you will be taught on the job. But take that initiative and try to learn on your own by Googling or watching videos on how to operate programs! “

What will this career look like in the future?

Jessica told us that she thinks legal professions will be entirely modernised in a few years. With the rise in AI and the automation of previously human-based professions, Jessica thinks the legal industry will be a different place. 

“We are already seeing that the way that legal services are delivered is fast changing due to advances in technology and business model innovation. There are already a few “NewLaw Firms” introduced, creating a gradual shift towards affordable, standardised services and efficiencies in how law firms deliver services,” Jess told us. 

She added, “I think this is great for the future lawyers, allowing for more of a work-life balance!”

How in-demand is this career?

In reality, lawyers will be needed for quite a while longer. People are always going to be facing legal challenges and disputes and these are going to be solved through lawyers. 

According to Lawyer, construction and property lawyers are one of the highest in demand legal fields. This is due to the predicted growth in technology and infrastructure across Australia.

Family lawyers are also growing in demand because of the increase in population, marriages, divorces and wills. So, while pretty much every legal field will be in demand for the foreseeable future, focusing on becoming a construction or family lawyer may promise increased job prospects. 

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?

Jessica confirmed that there are plenty of opportunities to grow throughout your career as a lawyer. 

“Absolutely, there is ample room to grow and progress in this career and as many lawyers do. You definitely can specialise in certain fields of law such as criminal law, family law, etc. There is never a day where you aren’t given the opportunity to learn something new and advance your skills,” Jessica said. 

Salary

Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$85,000+Very strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

According to Job Outlook, a lawyer will make approximately $85,000+ a year. The industry’s future growth is predicted to be very strong and the skill level rather is very high. 

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

Jessica was quick to say, “The intellectual challenge, most definitely.” 

She also told us, “I love being a lawyer because when I complete a matter for a client and they thank me with often high levels of emotion, I realise that in most cases, I am being trusted to present that clients ideas and stance on their behalf.

“I cannot think of anything better than a stranger putting their complete faith in you to help them. For me, that is the best part of my job. No amount of money can match that feeling.”

What do you enjoy least?

Managing work flow and deadlines has to be the most difficult part of the job. Everyone tells you organisation is key.

“I will even tell you that, but what they don’t tell you is that often, you receive instructions very last minute which will leave you panicking. However, if your workplace has great culture and teamwork, this is always overcome rapidly,” Jessica said. 

Advice for Aspiring Lawyers

We put the question to Jessica who was keen on letting us know that law students should try and obtain any legal experience that they can. Don’t wait until you graduate or only until you think you possess every single one of the right skills. Get in there now!

Do not wait to graduate university to obtain your first legal job. Start your legal career from your first or second year at university — this will set you apart from many other graduates.” She advised.   

What do you wish you had known before starting work in this career?

Jessica told us that there were two distinct things that she had wished she had known before working as a lawyer. 

#1: Choose (actually) good employers

Jessica explained, “Pick your employers wisely. It’s very easy to settle because it’s difficult to get your foot in the door however, a bad employer is not worth working for, regardless of the experience.”

She said that it can be really tempting to go through with the first offer you get, especially when it’s pretty difficult to get into the workforce in the first place. Try and figure out who you want to work for and what values you’d like them to represent. Remember, you’re representing their clients. 

#2: It’s a big responsibility

Jessica told us that it’s important for aspiring lawyers to remember that it’s not only the workload that’s going to be tough. 

“In terms of the work itself, I had prepared myself for a lot of work. However, I did not prepare myself for the level of responsibility coupled with it,” Jess said.  

She added, “For some fields, you have people’s lives in your hands, literally. It is sometimes easy to forget that it is people’s lives and not just your job so you need to be able to think realistically and not just think of it as a task to tick off your checklist.” 

Job Flexibility

Jessica told us that the job flexibility that’s available to lawyers totally depends on the field they’re in. 

“If you work in criminal law for example, it will be difficult to work from home as you will need to regularly be in and out of Court and meet with clients and counsel. However, perhaps if you work in-house, so long as you have the applicable programs at home, it will be easier to work remotely.” Jessica said. 

What is the workplace culture like?

The culture in the workplace of particular professions will change depending on the firm you’re in. Jessica said that where she works, the team and culture is encouraging and welcoming!

Workplace culture is incredibly supportive in a law firm environment as for the most part, you are working collaboratively. A lot of firms hire candidates to fit their culture and I believe that is extremely important,” Jessica said. 


Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!

 

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