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How to achieve a legal career?

About Law Clerks

Generally, the work of a Law Clerk is similar in all States and Territories of Australia, and some other countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and New Zealand. In America and elsewhere Law Clerks are often referred to as 'para-legals' or ‘paralegals’. However, although the term 'paralegal' is becoming more prevalent in Australia, caution should be used, as in America paralegals are formally trained and recognised as such, whereas here the role of a paralegal differs markedly in various jurisdictions, and even between firms. This article focuses on 'traditional' career paths and the general role of a Law Clerk within Australia.

In the early years of training, working as a Law Clerk entails providing skills in legal procedure as a support to Legal Practitioners ("Solicitors") and other legal providers such as Government Departments, or the Courts; or procedural skills to other providers such as Bank legal departments, Corporate legal departments, or Licensed Conveyancers[1]. In later years, when a person has gained the academic and practical training required of a Fellow of the Institute (a Legal Executive™), the Senior Law Clerk/Legal Executive will often have the day to day administrative management of his or her own files and/or department, subject always to direct Solicitor supervision and the requirements of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (Victoria), and various State and Territory equivalents[2]. Only a Legal Practitioner (Solicitor and/or Barrister[3]) admitted to practise and holding a current Practising Certificate is permitted by Law to perform legal work, give legal advice, engage in legal practice, and/or provide legal services, no one else[4]. Non-legal practitioners must work under the direct supervision and control, and on the instructions, of a Legal Practitioner. No matter what you learn in your studies, you cannot do anything other than on the instructions and under the supervision, of your Legal Practitioner supervisor.

A career as a Law Clerk can be extremely rewarding and satisfying, although many Law Clerks feel that they will not, or do not, realise their full potential until they have achieved the expertise necessary to become a Fellow of the Institute, and gain employment as a "Legal Executive". It should be noted that this Institute only recognises use of the term 'Legal Executive™' by a Fellow of the Institute[5].

A career as a Legal Executive is complete within itself; and Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives (Victoria) are authorised pursuant to the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 (Victoria) to witness Statutory Declarations and take Affidavits in Victoria, and also have certain certification rights.

However, some Legal Executives have used the expertise gained by them to go on to further study at tertiary level and become Barristers and Solicitors. Direct articulation of the Advanced Diploma of Legal Practice (Victoria) into a Bachelor of Laws Degree is not available at present, although ongoing discussions between providers of legal education may bear fruit in the future[6].

Where to start?

Everyone employed in the legal profession starts at a junior level, except graduates of Law Degree courses although they too must undergo training in the practicalities of Law. This is whether you complete the Advanced Diploma course, or other course of formal legal study, before you gain employment, or undertake the course on a part-time basis whilst employed, because you must learn to apply what you have learned to your everyday work.

Employers always look for a neat appearance and a good attitude. They will take into account that you are nervous at first, but will expect you to show a willingness to learn. Everyone is given mundane tasks at first, but if you remember that each mundane task has the potential to teach you a little more, you will have the right attitude. Also remember that each task in itself is important. Posting the mail on time may not seem vital, but if you consider that a client may leave her/his Solicitor because s/he felt that the Solicitor was not attending to the client's matters promptly, or that an important Court document may not be received by another firm within the required time, posting the mail does become an important task.

In the legal profession, great emphasis is placed upon the ability to follow instructions and work in a team environment, as well as utilising excellent English skills. Fundamental to working in the legal profession is the ability to maintain confidentiality of information, and to conduct yourself in an ethical manner.

Persons employed at basic entry level are usually asked to perform a wide range of tasks including typing (legal terminology and literacy), bookkeeping (basic accounts procedures), filing (organisational skills), answering the telephone (communication with clients and other legal personnel), making appointments and taking instructions (management and literacy skills), attending the Courts to file documents (how Court procedures operate and where documents go after typing), obtaining Searches from Land Registry or the Personal Property Securities Register (information Solicitors, or Legal Executives supervised by Solicitors, may need when managing a file).

When you eventually have the day-to-day responsibility for managing files under Solicitor supervision you will then know what duties should be performed by the staff you are supervising. You will be much more efficient in delegating tasks when you have a personal knowledge of what those tasks entail.

Starting points can be: Mail Clerk, Receptionist, trainee Legal Secretary/Personal Assistant, or trainee Clerk. It does not matter where you start because every job in the profession can teach you something - in our words, Experientia Docet Sapientiam: Experience Teaches Wisdom.

Employment Opportunities

The Institute maintains an Employment Register for members. This is kept by the Institute to facilitate placement of enrolees/members seeking employment with various Solicitors, members and Agencies which contact the Institute seeking staff. The Institute also regularly includes Employment Notices in its Journal, The Legal Executive.

Visit the LIV's Careers in Law website for the latest job advertisements, articled clerkships, career advice, HR information, and locum services.

Current Employment Opportunities for enrolees/members can be found in the 'members only' section of this site.

You should note that:

  • Notices placed on this website or in the Institute’s publications in regard to Positions Vacant/Positions Sought/Business and/or other Opportunities are shown as requested by the Advertiser; and the Institute will not become involved in negotiations between an Advertiser and any person responding to a notice. The publication of any notice or other advertisement is made at the request of the Advertiser, and does not imply endorsement by the Institute.
  • The Institute is not an employment agency, and there is no guarantee of employment through the Employment Register; and it an individual decision as to whether or not a particular position is suitable for that individual, in the particular circumstances. The Register is maintained in order that enrolee/member details listed on the Register can be provided to an employment enquirer where the enrolee/member(s) has listed experience/academic achievement sought by that enquirer.
  • Currently no charges are applicable to these services; however, employers may, if they wish, make a donation to the Ellen Dickeson Memorial Fund, which Fund awards prizes to students of the Advanced Diploma of Legal Practice, at various Educational Institutions, on an ongoing basis.  The Institute does not have Deductible Gift Recipient status, but will gratefully acknowledge any donation in The Legal Executive.

The road to Legal Executive™

If you show a willingness to learn, and if you decide that you would like to become a Law Clerk, the first step up is often to become a Legal Secretary. By learning from your direct supervisor you will be able to obtain a working knowledge of what is entailed in managing a file. If you have a supervisor who is willing to let you learn, and to use the knowledge gained through the Advanced Diploma course, you will generally be able to start doing some things by yourself before handing in your work to your supervisor to check, rather than only typing directly from a dictaphone or shorthand notes. In the beginning, this might only entail engrossing and typing some routine forms or short letters, but in time you will find that your supervisor will rely upon you to perform other additional tasks.

You will probably be employed as a Legal Secretary or a Clerk for some years, but you will find that whilst in the beginning you will only carry out routine tasks under maximum supervision, after a while you will no doubt carry out many tasks often performed by a Law Clerk (although still always under supervision).

The next step is to talk to your supervisor/employer about being recognised as a Law Clerk within the firm or Government Department, and being allowed to work in that capacity. If you have shown ability and dedication to your duties, your employer may decide to allocate to you a certain number of straightforward files for you to manage on a day-to-day basis (under the supervision required by the Act). You will probably have to do all of your own typing as you will still only be employed at an initial level. (You should note that most Solicitors these days have computers on their desks!). This is when things become more difficult, not easier, as you will develop a keen sense of responsibility, and be even more careful than you were before.

There is now no exact definition of a "Law Clerk", or even "Senior Law Clerk" in use on a ‘formal’ basis[7], although a Law Clerk is often described as a person managing straightforward files under maximum supervision and instruction, and a Senior Law Clerk as a person managing more difficult files under a slightly lesser degree of supervision and instruction.

After you have worked as a Law Clerk for a number of years you will be ready to set your sights on a career as a Legal Executive. In order to become a Fellow of the Institute, a "Legal Executive"(member), and always subject to the discretion of the Council of the Institute, you must generally have completed the Advanced Diploma course (or other approved course), have completed the Institute's examination in Legal Ethics, and have been employed in the legal profession for eight years under the supervision of a Solicitor[8] (the majority of which period must be at Senior Law Clerk level)[9].

However, you do not have to possess all these requirements to apply for enrolment - there are a number of enrolment levels : Provisional, Associate, Affiliate, Accountancy. There are also other criteria to be observed, such as being of good character, observing the Memorandum and Articles of Association, and Code of Conduct and Continuing Professional Development requirements of the Institute at all times, and so on. These apply to all members persons enrolled with or members of the Institute, and are available in the 'Applications' area of this website.

A final note

The Law in each State and Territory of Australia is different. Learning the administrative 'discipline' of Law in one jurisdiction should help you, but you would still have to learn about the practices and procedures of the Law in your intending State/Territory. If you are planning to relocate in the future, we recommend that you find out about different courses in your originating State/Territory and your intending State/Territory, and ascertain whether you can transfer some credits from one course to another, or whether you would have to start wholly afresh in your intending State/Territory.
More information
Should you require any further information please contact the Institute:
Telephone: (03) 9808 7159
CEO email:
Interstate enquirers will also be given an applicable State telephone number where applicable.

Good luck with your legal career!

[1] Subject to specific requirements and prohibitions in the Victorian Conveyancers Act 2006 (see also Legal Profession Act 2004) and/or State/Territory equivalents where applicable
[2] NB: the supervisory requirements also depend upon common law principles
[3] Admission as a Barrister & Solicitor, Solicitor, or Barrister, depends upon the applicable State/Territory requirements
[4]pursuant to the Legal Profession Act 2004 (subject to specified exceptions, such as the carrying on of a conveyancing business by a Licensed Conveyancer pursuant to the Conveyancers Act 2006); NB: 'Legal Practitioner holding a current Practising Certificate' = 'Australian Legal Practitioner'
[5] or a Fellow of one of the other Institutes of Legal Executives, with an appropriate designation (i.e. WA, NZILE, ILEX, IILEX)
[6] From time to time the Institute has considered/considers other courses within and outside Victoria for the purpose of satisfying the academic criteria for various levels of enrolment or membership - details can be provided on request.
[7] although previously defined under the Legal Profession Employees Award Employee Relations Act 1992
[8] or a Legal Executive™, who will in turn be supervised by a Solicitor
[9] your actual employee description is not relevant - the degree of responsibility is the applicable factor; and the time periods are on the basis of full-time employment, or part-time equivalent
Institute of Legal Executives updated 23/2/2014