If you’ve taken an alternative route towards your legal career path, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a wide variety of careers and salaries on the other side of your Juris Doctor(JD) degree.
And just like the variety of people who come to the legal profession from other academic disciplines, or after some work experience, Juris Doctor careers can be found in a broad range of industries.
Corrine Grant is one of Australia’s most famous Juris Doctor career changers. In 2010, then comedian Grant had been a national TV regular on programs including ‘Good News Week’ and ‘Rove’ for a decade.
“I set out to do something that appealed to what I enjoyed most – working in a team, working on projects, working on something that I found personally rewarding and intellectually challenging, and doing work that was meaningful to me,” Grant tells The New Daily.
Fast forward another decade and Grant is now working in Victoria’s Office of Public Prosecution and volunteering at Refugee Legal after a stint in law firms.
Whether you’re planning to step up into the C-Suite, combine your existing qualifications and experience in a specialist law field, or change your career entirely from wherever you are into a traditional legal role – JD is the graduate degree to help you achieve success in your goals.
What jobs can you do with a JD degree?
An easier question to answer would be, what jobs can’t you do with a JD degree?
With a Juris Doctor qualification, you’ll have everything you need to step into a wide variety of areas of law including corporate law, property law, human rights law and legal counsel.
However, the Juris Doctor is also an excellent postgraduate degree to take your career to the next level.
After a black swan event like the pandemic – the response to which surprised almost every single business and individual in the world – your legal training and skills in identifying legal risks will be invaluable for the next business challenge.
Whether it’s a cyber-attack, data breach, or any long-tail effects from the pandemic, organisations will be relying on business leaders who have a deep understanding of law. In these challenges lies the opportunity to put yourself in the general manager’s seat, or work your way up through chief operations officer and chief executive officer to company director.
Juris Doctor graduate salaries in Australia start at around $60,000 and quickly rise into the six-figure range for traditional legal careers. Outside of legal circles, qualified business leaders will not only have the legal knowledge, but the negotiation skills to ensure they earn what they’re worth.
Top 5 legal careers in Australia
The Juris Doctor is equal to the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) as a qualification for legal practice. In fact, as Associate Professor Dr Trevor Ryan from the University of Canberra’s Canberra Law School explains, some regard the Juris Doctor superior.
“As well as being more highly ranked than the LLB under the Australian Qualifications Framework for complexity and depth of achievement, the JD has greater recognition and prestige internationally,” says Dr Ryan.
With a Juris Doctor qualification, you can extend your own skills and experience into the top five legal careers in Australia, including lawyer, solicitor, barrister, magistrate and judge.
When you think of Juris Doctor jobs in Australia, the role of lawyer is probably one of the first to come to mind.
Lawyers provide legal advice to individuals and organisations and manage their legal affairs – including preparing contracts, drawing up claims, advising on legal issues and dispute resolution.
You may have worked in a business that has access to a lawyer for reviewing contracts, or perhaps your organisation has distributed workplace advice from the corporate lawyers.
While it’s not usually their only role, lawyers do deal with disputes and can appear in court on behalf of their clients.
Given the all-pervading nature of law, it’s common for lawyers to specialise in a particular field of law, which could be something you draw on from your previous experience.
Entry-level lawyers can expect an average salary of around $95,000 a year, while experienced lawyers can expect around $145,000, according to talent.com.
A solicitor is a type of lawyer, who is defined by the law as a legal practitioner who has completed a law degree and holds a practising certificate.
Solicitors often refer to themselves as lawyers, which can be confusing, but for our purposes it reinforces that these are both Juris Doctor preferred jobs.
While a lawyer will advise clients on their legal rights, a solicitor is more likely to practise law by advocating for them in court – unless a barrister is required, in which case they may instruct the barrister.
Talent.com reports that entry-level solicitors can expect an average annual salary of around $94,000 and experienced solicitors around $140,000.
Armen Karlozian is a barrister at Northshore Chambers who changed careers after completing his Juris Doctor qualification.
Prior to representing clients in the Local Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court of NSW, he worked for a decade as the head of information technology with Médecins Sans Frontières.
After building a legal career on those impressive foundations, Karlozian now specialises in technology, commercial and criminal law.
If you are interested in building on your own experience and representing clients in court, then barrister is one of the Juris Doctor job opportunities you should definitely consider.
Entry-level barristers can expect an average salary of around $65,000 a year, which can jump to around $110,000 for experienced barristers, according to talent.com and payscale.com, respectively.
Even though magistrates are usually recommended for appointment, the role of magistrate is ultimately one of the jobs you can get with a Juris Doctor.
Like judges, magistrates decide on cases by interpreting and applying the law – only they do it in different places. While judges sit in the District Court or Supreme Court, magistrates look after the Local Court.
Magistrates are likely to preside over a large number of cases in a single day.
While the classic Australian film ‘The Castle’ probably shouldn’t be referred to as an example of legal careers in Australia, in many ways it’s hard not to.
Constantinos Kilias played the role of Farouk, Darryl Kerrigan’s neighbour who supported his fight in the High Court against the compulsory acquisition of his house. At the time of filming (1997) Kilias was actually a part-time actor and full-time barrister.
In 2018, after 29 years at the Victorian Bar, Kilias was appointed as Magistrate of Court of Victoria. We’re pretty sure that doesn’t go against ‘the vibe’ of the Constitution.
Talent.com notes that an entry-level magistrate can expect around $70,000 a year. In the Victorian Court of Appeal, a magistrate can expect around $324,000 a year, according to the state government.
The esteemed role of judge must be one of the greatest Juris Doctor career outcomes to be imagined by law school graduates.
While they both decide on cases by interpreting and applying the law, judges differ from magistrates by presiding over more complicated and longer trials.
In jury trials, judges often have to explain quite complex legal matters to the members of the jury.
Talent.com notes that entry-level judges can expect an average annual salary of around $66,000. Judges in the Court of Appeal can expect an average salary above $376,000, according to the Victorian Government.
Other attractive legal careers in Australia
Of course, there are more than five attractive legal careers in Australia for law graduates. Alternative legal careers within the legal industry include judge’s associate, legal aid lawyer or community lawyer.
Juris Doctor career opportunities don’t end when you step outside of the legal system. Two of the more common Juris Doctor degree jobs for paralegals in the private sector are legal officer and workplace adviser.
As a workplace adviser, you’ll be providing legal advice on employment and workplace matters – working in-house or through a consultancy. Entry-level workplace advisers can expect an average salary of around $87,000, which can jump to $127,000 for experienced advisers, according to talent.com.
Legal policy officers and policy officers work with organisations to analyse and advise on a variety of policy issues. This involves legal research, coordinating conferences, delivering presentations and more. Talent.com advises that policy officers can expect an average annual salary of around $94,000 at entry level, or $123,000 at an experienced level.
Policy advisers take the research gathered by policy officers to develop, implement and then monitor policies. Entry-level policy advisers can expect an average salary of around $99,000 a year, and experienced advisers $140,000 a year, according to talent.com.
There are many more career options with a Juris Doctor – which one is right for you will be guided and enhanced by your previous qualifications and experience.
How much do legal professionals earn in Australia?
The lowest paying Juris Doctor job salary is around $60,000 which also happens to be the same as the average wage of all Australian jobs.
Even better news, as the University of Canberra’s Dr Ryan explains, is that this legal education comes with a valued reputation.
“The JD is valued internationally for the depth of skills and experience that JD graduates bring to legal practice,” says Dr Ryan.
“Originating in the United States as a modern version of older European degrees, the Juris Doctor became the standard pathway to legal practice there in the 1960s.
So, as well as establishing your Juris Doctor career in Australia, the JD can be a passport to an international career for law students.
“It became internationally recognised alongside US influence in international business and has now become a popular educational model in many jurisdictions, which understand the benefits of a prior undergraduate degree for the advanced graduate study required to be an effective lawyer,” says Dr Ryan.
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