Thinking seriously about a career in law?
Preparing yourself for a career in law requires attention to detail. There are key skills needed for the different fields and roles, some important subject choices to consider, and several pathways to reach your goal.
Law gives you great choices if you have a strong sense of justice, doing the right thing and want to work in a profession that really contributes to our society.
Now it's time to move forward with your career planning. Here is some useful info to help you start building your skills right now.
What skills do I need?
Different law professional roles require a range of skills, some common to all or most roles, while others are specialised skills required for a particular role.
Legal professionals typically need to be able to:
- think quickly and laterally
- research thoroughly and write fluently
- persuade, advocate and argue convincingly and with sound logic.
To pursue a career in the law you need to enjoy:
- debating or public speaking
- legal studies, politics and other humanities based subjects
- exercising or practising your communication skills.
Building skills to succeed
If you're serious about making the leap into law, it's never too soon to start upskilling in preparation for the challenge ahead. Start work now on developing these skills and qualities through your school work, hobbies, sport, home or social life.
Top 5 skills for legal professionals
It used to be the job of many young legal professionals in offices to search through mountains of books and papers to find legal decisions, speeches in parliament, analysis by law professors, legislation and regulations. A lot of that information is now online and more easily searchable but having good research skills is not just about finding information. It is also about:
- Verifying the validity of the information.
- Identifying key points and outcomes.
- Making sure you haven't missed anything important.
- Being concise.
- Summarising large amounts of information effectively.
Time is money. Eemployers and clients don't like to pay more than they have to. If you can save others time by summarising large amounts of information into two concise pages for them to read, you are demonstrating excellent research skills.
- Remember, good research is searching, sorting and summarising.
Writing clearly and effectively is very, very important for those in the legal profession, whether it be writing letters to clients or drafting a contract, will or deed. Although we often think of legal professionals as lawyers standing up in court and arguing all the time, the vast majority of a legal professional's job is done in front of a computer screen writing.
Practise building these skills in your schoolwork or other writing related activities or hobbies:
Language must be precise - a comma in the wrong place can change the meaning of a law or a contract.
- Ask family or friends to read your assignments back to you, to see if what you wrote conveys what you meant to say.
Legal writing is not like essay writing or any other type of writing. It is very specific and there are lots of words you won't find anywhere else.
- Check out a dictionary of legal terms and words to familiarise with some and see how theyare used.
Writing things down is important to keep a record of what happens and when.
- Practise taking good notes at school - an essential skill for success at university study and in your professional legal career.
Speaking / Listening
Clear communication is essential. There will be times when you are called on to speak. It might be in a courtroom, at a board meeting, a contract negotiation, or with a client who is experiencing a lot of stress.
Practise building these skills at school or through other activities such as team sports, club activities and public speaking:
- Know what to say and how to say it clearly.
- Always make sure what you say is appropriate.
Learn about professional language etiquette
- speaking to a judge is different to speaking to a colleague in the office and very different to your friends at school or an online gaming opponent.
Learn active listening skills so you can tune in to your audience and tailor the way you communicate
- some clients will grasp everything you say, some may ignore you, and some may not be able to understand what you're trying to tell them.
Working in a legal environment requires lots of concentration. You will sometimes need to focus on one thing for long periods of time. You might need to read a hundred pages quickly and summarise key points. You might need to figure out a solution to a sudden problem that needs solving in the next hour. You will often have work that needs to be finished by a set deadline.
You can build skills in this area at school, or activities outside school, by:
- Training yourself to concentrate and avoid distractions.
- Working towards assignment deadlines and managing your time carefully.
- Practising being highly organised and priortising tasks to be completed.
- Enrolling in a speed reading course.
Legal work can be busy, hectic and difficult, especially when you're first starting out. Without a good system in place for making sure you get everything done, you may become stressed and not act as professionally as you should. The more organised you are at work the more effective you will be at getting everything done.
To build your organising skills, you can:
- Plan your day and know what you need to do
- Learn to schedule assignments or other tasks with a timeline.
- Keep a calendar and self-monitor by checking it frequently to stay on top of tasks.
You can start practising these right now by organising your study schedule for school. Working effectively for three hours is so much better than working for six hours with distractions, interruptions and without any system.
What school subjects can help?
The most common prerequisite that you have to study as a part of the VCE, if you want to go on to study law at university, is 'Units 3 and 4: any English'. Most universities require a study score of at least 30 in English (EAL) or at least 25 in English other than EAL. If you are applying for entry into a combined degree you will also need to satisfy any pre-requisites for the non-law component of your degree.
You should choose other subjects you enjoy, which will benefit you in developing the skills that legal professionals need. Depending on your preferred pathway and career direction, these could be from any of the study area groupings available to you. Check out our partner university websites for more information about their courses, subjects and requirements for entry.
Focus on subjects that might help you to get an idea of what law is all about and whether it is really something you would like to study when you leave school. The obvious subject choice is legal studies, where you will learn about things like the law making process, the Australian legal system, and some of the main types of law (like criminal and civil law). There are other subjects such as Australian Politics, Global Politics and Economics which will help you to build essen tial skills like critical analysis and you'll learn about issues that you'll find very useful if you do go on to study law.
Use VCE to achieve your personal best results. While ATAR isn’t everything, you will have the widest possible choice of options if you achieve the best results you can. You will also learn about your own potential - it’s great preparation for the effort that will be expected of you at university.
Before choosing your VCE subjects, do some research on your course options at different universities. Our LEAP Partner Universities websites all have a special LEAP landing page with shortcuts to their courses, entry pathways, scholarships & financial assistance, student support services and more...
You should also check the VTAC publications web page, go to the Publications for Year 10 and 11 students and browse to the VICTER publication for the year you'll be applying for entry. It lists all Victorian Universities' pre-requisites for entry into their courses.
Explore options and pathways
Consider the different study pathways and if you want to become a lawyer, also note the practical legal training and the final hurdles, when researching your options and deciding to make the leap into law.
There are lots of options for Law studies at university that will equip you for other careers. So you should first understand the areas within Law and the specialisations that interest you. Check out our law > glossary to help you decide which area sounds right for you. Also check out Law professions snapshot - facts and figures on our Getting started page to see what employment trends are predicted.
If you're still not sure whether you want to practise as a lawyer, consider studying for a Bachelor of Laws. This will keep that option open and give you readily transferable skills if you change your mind. As you progress through your course and get a better feel for the areas you prefer and the kind of legal role you'll enjoy the most, you can choose specialisations. If you already know what you want to study and love a challenge, consider applying for a double degree like Commerce/ Law, Arts/ Law or Science/ Law and save time and money while gaining two degrees.
Bachelor of Laws
The most common pathway towards practising as a lawyer. This is a 4 year full-time course that you can apply for in Year 12 through VTAC. Many universities in Victoria and around Australia offer the Bachelor of Laws and some offer double degrees. After completing this, you must complete a year of practical legal training to be recognised by the Australian Council of Legal Education and eligible to practise as a lawyer in Australia.
What will I study?
To ensure that everyone learns the core principles of Australian law, every single law course at Australian universities which is recognised by the Council of Legal Education must have 11 specific subjects (the Priestly 11). All of the law courses have a lot more than 11 subjects you need to study, but these 11 must be completed otherwise you won't be eligible to become a lawyer.
Go to glossary > law > Priestly 11 for descriptions of the core subjects:
Bachelor of Laws (Graduate Entry) or Juris Doctor (JD)
This is another pathway into Law. You can first study any university degree you like, then apply for one of these course options to progress into Law qualifications.
What will I study?
These include the same Priestley 11 subjects as the undergraduate Bachelor of Laws courses, but because you will have already completed a university degree, the time you have to study these courses is reduced from 4 to 3 years full-time.
Some universities offer a Graduate Entry Bachelor of Laws, while some offer a JD. There are some differences but both are recognised by the Council of Legal Education and once you finish, and complete a year of practical legal training, you are eligible to apply to practise as a lawyer.
Practical Legal Training
After all that hard work at university, gaining a law qualification, developing your legal skills and learning about the many different areas of law (and hopefully getting an idea about what kind of law you might like to work in) you now have to complete a year of practical legal training. There are two ways you can do this:
- Studying the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice for 1 year full-time, or
- Doing supervised workplace training (SWT). This is paid work under the supervision of an Australian lawyer where you gain professional experience about the work of being a lawyer, not just the theory. Many people find working as a lawyer and studying law very, very different so be prepared!
Once you finish your year of practical legal training, you can apply to be allowed to practise as a lawyer. You must also undergo a criminal record check and provide affidavits (statements from eligible people) swearing you are of good character. Once you satisfy all of these requirements for 'admission' you are admitted as a lawyer during a court ceremony.
Visit Open Days
It is a good idea to visit open days held on metro and regional university campuses. Download our Open Day Calendar (PDF 79Kb) to plan your visits and our Open Day Hints and Checklist (PDF 100Kb) for tips on what to do and ask at an Open Day.
Some free legal advice
Students at Victoria University video interviewed the Hon. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren AC QC. In the video, she discusses her own experiences and difficulties as a student in her transition from Year 12 to Law studies at university. She also stresses the value of practical education when studying Law, such as internships - "any opportunity for exposure to the courts and the workings of the law for a student... makes what you are doing relevant, it gives it a context...". Watch the video on YouTube...
Build your skills in a LEAP activity
See the LEAP activities you can get involved in, to skill up and prepare for a career in Law.
Are you ready to make the leap?
Have you made out your case for a Legal Profession career? Then let's focus on getting there. Go to Making the leap for some final hints and tips to refine your strategy.