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GrainOfSalt

Studying law in Australia with the intentions of remaining there afterwards

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Would greatly appreciate some input on the prospects of a Canadian student studying and practising law in Australia.

My situation: My significant(ly better) other is from Australia. Met here while she was on assignment (has been here for a few years now), is scheduled to go back to Aus next year. We are planning on getting married some time in the next 2-4 years. I'm still a student in my 3rd year of undergrad (mature student fwiw). I am open to moving to Aus but I would like to be better informed of the job prospects over there, particularly for a foreigner like myself. She is open to remaining in Canada, so we are just considering everything in its totality to see which of the two options would be best for us.

I would be much better informed about the prospect of moving to Australia if some members on this forum would be kind enough to address some of the concerns I have:

1) legal industry in Australia in general

2) Education system in Australia, particularly if it is tiered like the American law schools, or more uniform (in quality of education, etc;) like it is in Canada

3) Work life balance

4) Anything else I should consider but failed to mention

Thanks in advance, I know this is a total shot in the dark, but its worth a shot!

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2 hours ago, GrainOfSalt said:

Would greatly appreciate some input on the prospects of a Canadian student studying and practising law in Australia.

My situation: My significant(ly better) other is from Australia. Met here while she was on assignment (has been here for a few years now), is scheduled to go back to Aus next year. We are planning on getting married some time in the next 2-4 years. I'm still a student in my 3rd year of undergrad (mature student fwiw). I am open to moving to Aus but I would like to be better informed of the job prospects over there, particularly for a foreigner like myself. She is open to remaining in Canada, so we are just considering everything in its totality to see which of the two options would be best for us.

I would be much better informed about the prospect of moving to Australia if some members on this forum would be kind enough to address some of the concerns I have:

1) legal industry in Australia in general

2) Education system in Australia, particularly if it is tiered like the American law schools, or more uniform (in quality of education, etc;) like it is in Canada

3) Work life balance

4) Anything else I should consider but failed to mention

Thanks in advance, I know this is a total shot in the dark, but its worth a shot!

From the other threads on this site, I'd say it seems to be extremely difficult to get your foot in the door in the legal sector. It might help that you plan to permanently stay there, but I reckon it would take years before you would actually work there as a barrister or solicitor. I'd probably consider looking for legal assistant or paralegal positions while you are there to rack up some experience.

I'm not exactly sure of this, but based on what I've heard, the Australian education system tends to be easier than the other jurisdictions. You tend to have less courses to take, so it would be a more relaxed environment. You should choose your university carefully; it would be best to get into the top-tier unis with the likes of University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, or ANU. 

I can't answer your other questions; perhaps someone on this forum who is working in Australia is able to give you a better perspective.

Best of luck with your studies!

Edited by timeisticking
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the Australian education system tends to be easier than the other jurisdictions.

Not true. Getting in is easier. Getting good grades is not. Australia does not have the "gentleman's 'B"".  I went to school in Australia and the coursework was intense. They would award one of two "A"s (called a high distinction) per class, if any. Class averages hovered between 62%-68% (a "credit").  

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Work life balance largely depends on what city you will be living. The major metropolitan areas with lots of commercial work have high work expectations but generally it is drastically lower than canada.

Firstly it is mandatory for employers to give 5 weeks vacation to start.

Similar to Canada, your job prospects are entirely dependent on your grades. If you do very well you will have good job prospects. If Not, you won't.

Employers like someone who has an undergrad and then a law jd because you have more experience than the 21 year old law grads that typically come out of Australian schools.

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On 22/01/2018 at 1:08 AM, fangle said:

Employers like someone who has an undergrad and then a law jd because you have more experience than the 21 year old law grads that typically come out of Australian schools.

Melbourne is a graduate entry JD. 

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1) legal industry in Australia in general

The process to become a lawyer in Australia is slightly different to Canada. To become a lawyer in Australia, you need a law degree, a Practical Legal Training ('PLT') course (about 3 months full-time), about 90 days work experience and to pass the ethical requirements. This allows you to get a restricted practicing certificate, which requires supervision. You will be able to get an unrestricted practicing certificate after 2 years work experience. You only need to sit the bar exam if/when you want to become a barrister.

It is worth being mindful of the fact Australia still has a split profession i.e. solicitors and barristers are two separate professions. Most lawyers start as solicitors and then become barristers once they have some experience if they are drawn to advocacy. This also means that most lawyers in Australia don't actually sit the bar exam. Barristers generally work in chambers (office buildings shared with other barristers), but they are financially independent from each other, essentially operating their own business. They can only be hired by a client through a solicitor, which makes relationships with solicitors very important.

The legal industry in Australia seems to be shrinking and is highly competitive, while the number of law schools has increased a lot over the past 20 years. About half of all law students don't actually become lawyers but it is still seen as a valuable degree for many other fields (e.g. investment banking, consulting, compliance, government). Since Australia churns out a lot more law grads than Canada, this also results in much lower salaries than in most other common law jurisdictions. Grads at top law firms only earn about AU$65-$75k/year (AUD roughly equals CAD) in their first year (this is below the average salary for full time employees in Australia), although it is worth noting that good firms also pay for their grad's PLT course in their first year and give them extra days off for study. Salaries also seem to go up a bit slower than elsewhere. Profitability seems comparable (e.g. in a recent dispute involving Herbert Smith Freehills, it was revealed profit per partner was AU$1.4m). However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to become partner, with most major firms having cut partner numbers by about 25% over the past 5 years.

Mid-tiers are alright and there are some interesting up-and-comers like Gilbert + Tobin, which seems to be oriented at paying lawyers well to work very hard. 

If you can't get a grad position with a mid-tier or top-tier, you may be stuck paying for PLT yourself and I have heard of starting salaries at boutiques being as low as $45k (not a whole lot more than minimum wage in Aus).

Australia, particularly NSW, can also be more old-school when it comes to the distinction between common law and equity. I believe NSW was one of the last jurisdictions to abandon the separate courts of equity.

2) Education system in Australia, particularly if it is tiered like the American law schools, or more uniform (in quality of education, etc;) like it is in Canada

I think Australia is more tiered than Canada. Melbourne Law School (University of Melbourne) is the best and is usually ranked in the global top 10 for law in both QS and THE rankings. It is the only Australian law school that requires an LSAT score to apply. It is also the only law school to only offer law as a graduate degree (Juris Doctor). Most other law schools offer law as an undergraduate degree (LLB) but I believe most good schools don't allow students to take an LLB as a single degree if they're completing it as an undergraduate, requiring students to complete it as a dual-degree (e.g. LLB/BComm), which is usually at least 5.5 years.

My estimated tiers:

1: UMelbourne, USydney, UNSW, ANU

2: Monash, UQueensland, UWA, UTS, QUT

3: Macquarie, Griffith, UAdelaide, Deakin

4: UTasmania, Curtin, UniSA, La Trobe, UNewcastle, UWollonggong, RMIT, VicU

5: JCU, Swinburne, Bond, Murdoch, Flinders

My experience is that lawyers at top-tier law firms are predominantly from the top 2 tiers, with a handful from tier 3. It's possible to get into a good firm from a tier 5 uni but you would have to do exceptionally well.

Based on what I've heard from other Melbourne law students, the lowest average grade (WAM) that resulted in a clerkship was 68% (roughly top 60% of the class or 40th percentile). For a tier 5, I imagine you would have to be in the top 5%. However, location will obviously also be a factor e.g. if you're in South Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory, the only schools are tier 3-5 schools so people from those schools will be able to get the best jobs in those regions (but most of the Big 6 aren't in those regions). Even at tier 1 unis, you should aim to be in the top 30% if you want a good chance of getting a top-tier job.

Private unis, like Bond, have a bad reputation because it is seen as a place where you just buy your degree. However, I believe the quality of education can be alright and you can still get a top-tier job if you get excellent grades.

3) Work life balance

It varies a lot between firms and depending on how quickly you want to advance. Almost all law firms (except Gilbert + Tobin) say that they prioritise work-life balance but I think most top-tier lawyers have to work long hours at times. I've heard of some grads working 16 hour days for weeks at a time, although that's exceptional. Even boutiques with low-salaries can require long hours and weekend work, which can mean their effective hourly salary is below minimum wage ($18.29/hour). I think some mid-tiers and boutiques can have more reasonable hours but the natural fluctuations in private practice makes it uncertain. Many lawyers that want a better work-life balance go in-house once they have a few years of private-practice experience.

4) Anything else I should consider but failed to mention

To get a job at a top-tier or good mid-tier in Australia, you generally have to do a clerkship in the summer between your penultimate year and final year. This means that if you're doing a JD, you need good grades in your first 1.5 years because you're effectively applying for your grad job half way through your degree. The system is slightly different between cities e.g. Sydney firms offer 10 week clerkships and if you get it, you're practically guaranteed to get in; in Melbourne, each clerkship is 3-4 weeks and you can potentially do three in total (although most people struggle to get one), and firms generally hire 1/3 clerks so you need 3 clerkships if you want a good chance of getting a job. Clerkships are also reasonably paid (around $950/week before tax + superannuation) and you're generally not expected to work too hard, the focus is more on seeing if you're a good cultural fit.

In order to improve their chances of getting a clerkship, many law students do unpaid internships at boutique law firms or community legal clinics ('CLCs'). This adds to the expense of the whole process and means you might not have time for paid work during summer vacations. The top students or those with the best connections are able to get paid paralegal positions instead but those are hard to come by. Even unpaid positions are competitive, summer internships at CLCs fill-up quickly.

It's really hard to get a clerkship if you don't have Australian or New Zealand citizenship/PR. When you're applying for clerkships, one of the first questions that the application form will ask is whether you have Aus/NZ PR/citizenship. This is a threshold question for most firms. Some of the more international-oriented firms will consider international students with special skills that the locals are lacking (if it is important from the Australian market) e.g. extremely high grades, exceptional work experience or native Mandarin. If you have these skills, the firm will be able to argue that you should be given a work visa. If you're moving with a partner who would be regarded as your de facto spouse, I assume you should be able to get PR relatively easily, but if you can't get PR for any reason, it would be very difficult for you to get a good job.

Another consideration for PR/citizenship, if you can get PR before you apply for law school, you will be eligible to apply for a Commonwealth Supported Place ('CSP'). This means paying domestic student rates (around $10k/year) rather than international (around $40k/year). Also, unless you decide to pay up-front, CSP fees are automatically put on a low-interest loan through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme ('HECS'). You don't have to repay this loan until your income reaches a certain threshold (around $50k/year). However, CSP at a top-tier uni would require grades comparable to those required by a top Canadian uni e.g. 3.7+ GPA in undergrad and 165+ LSAT. Some Australian unis will also consider/require high school grades (even for Juris Doctor positions). Australia's lower entry requirements are just for full-fee (predominantly international) students or lower tier unis.

Edited by Yadang
Forgot something, typos
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If you are a Canadian with a degree you will definitely get a paralegal position if you apply. Apply for full-time positions and ask if they will do "jobshare" arrangement at the interview.  Most Canadians have very good previous work experience (not 1 day a week internships) which many JD Australians do not. So you will find something even if you have to apply to 20-30 places. You should be paid 25-40/hour for a paralegal position. 

 

If you are under 31 go on a Working Holiday Visa for 6month to a year school beforehand and work an unlimited amount of hours (as a paralegal or otherwise, you can usually come in at the same level of what you were doing in Canada in Australia. Many young people from the UK do this). It will be a bit easier to find something part-time while you study this way.

Everyone will tell you to do hospitality work (waiter/ bar) DONT there is NO point/ you are wasting your time. You can get a professional or paralegal job full-time or part-time with effort. Alternatively, ask the University if they will give you a part-time research job or another job.  (Look at the Law Faculty and the Faculty from you hold your previous degree, esp if you have published a paper or have a masters). Don't be to shy to apply, apply, apply and follow up.  LinkedIn is your friend, look at what other successful Canadians doing the JD are doing: did intern at an investment for a few months and then got a clerkship at a top firm and were later employed there...do the same.

The Canadian approach is a bit different than the Australian approach to work/education/ internships so don't undersell your self. If you want to be a top student, act like a top student and that is how you will be taken. Australia is more conservative than you think, so going to a good school here, working hard in and out of the classroom can pay off.  No one will treat you special (better or worse) because you are from abroad if you speak English, especially in the workplace. 


I have heard VERY VERY bad things about the UNSW JD Law and it has been in the news lately for its scandals. I know a few Canadian students who started there and left after one semester. DO NOT GO THERE (locals go on full-scholarships only).  I will ask them for more details and post about it later. Its ranking does not reflect the JD program. I think their LLB program is ok though, but you can't do it if you have a degree.

*Canadian expat in Australia for 5+ years. Not in the legal field but have many Canadian JD friends in Sydney and Melbourne .* 

 

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