Legal Career Options

There are many different options for a career in the law. This page seeks to provide you with some preliminary information on the types of roles that exist.

Solicitors

A solicitor is usually the first point of contact for a person seeking legal advice and assistance. Some common responsibilities might include:

  • drafting documents including wills, contracts and conveyancing
  • providing legal advice for the growth of business
  • resolving legal disputes
  • advising clients facing criminal charges or involved in a lawsuit.

Responsibilities will vary depending on the practice area. With experience, solicitors in private practice generally move to associate then senior associate roles. After a number of years, the solicitor may be asked to become one of the firm's partners. This involves greater responsibility, increased status and income, greater influence in the running of the firm and training of younger solicitors.

Barristers

Barristers generally receive work by referral from solicitors and represent clients in court. They have a sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure and are able to determine the appropriate strategy and arguments to be presented in court. In court they are able to:

  • work with solicitors to prepare cases for trial
  • question witnesses and "lead" evidence, and cross-examine witnesses called by the other side
  • make submissions on points of law during the course of a trial
  • negotiate settlements to discontinue legal proceedings.

To become a barrister you must:

  • gain admission to practise law as a solicitor
  • undertake a nine-month "reading" period assigned to a barrister with at least 10 years' experience
  • complete the Bar Readers’ Course (approximately three months). This course provides practical instruction to prospective barristers and the first few months coincide with the “reading” period
  • sign the Bar Roll after 3 months
  • during the following six months you can accept briefs and present cases on behalf of clients.

Once the Bar Roll has been signed you may only work as a barrister, until you decide on leaving the Bar to return to work as a solicitor. More information can be found at the Victorian Bar website.

In-House Counsel

An in-house counsel lawyer has a similar position to that of a solicitor; however, their only client is the organisation they are employed by. With the increase of costs in legal work, it is now more common for an organisation, private business or not-for-profit association to employ a solicitor to handle all standard legal work.

Responsibilities of an in-house counsel include:

  • providing independent legal advice to the organisation
  • drafting contracts
  • entering into and drafting negotiations regarding Service Level Agreements on behalf of the organisation
  • taking measures to ensure Corporate Governance requirements and obligations are met (ASX, ASIC)
  • managing regulatory reporting obligations relevant to the client (ASIC, APRA etc.)
  • ensuring that the organisation maintains its duty to the Court.

Roles in the Court System 

There are two types of courts, state and federal, and each have their own jurisdiction. Within the state law there are generally four types of courts:

  1. Magistrates' Court
  2. County Court
  3. Supreme Court
  4. Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Judge's Associate

A judge's associate sits in court with the judge and helps:

  • prepare and maintain paperwork on the performance of the judge or master
  • schedule and coordinate hearings
  • arrange trial dates
  • liaise with other sections of the court, the profession and the public.

Magistrate

Magistrates are a type of judge who is appointed to hear cases at the Magistrates’ Court. A magistrate can make decisions about disputes and enforce those decisions.

Registrar

Criminal Appeals

The registrar works with legal parties to prepare an appeal for hearing before a judge of the Court of Appeal. They hear and determine various applications relating to an appeal.

Court of Appeal

The registrar is responsible for the Registry of the Court:

  • liaising with the President
  • contacting other judges
  • all matters in the civil jurisdiction of the Court.

Support Staff

Any staff that may or may not have a legal background that assist in preparation of legal documents or investigative work. This includes:

  • legal assistant
  • law clerk
  • legal executive.

More information can be found on the Institute of Legal Executives website.

More Information

You can contact LIV Young Lawyers on 03 9607 9370 or at younglaw@liv.asn.au. There have been a number of articles and blogs published on careers in the law in the Young Lawyers Journal and Young Lawyers Blog.

Victorian university law schools also publish careers guides containing profiles of various law firms and organisations, career guidance information and testimonials from members of the legal profession. Hard copies are usually available through the corresponding law students' societies. Soft copies may also be available on their websites.

You might also find the following resources helpful: