If you’re thinking about studying law, there’s a strong chance you’ll be asking how good it is as a future career. And that’s an excellent question.
On the surface, a law degree looks like it would make you highly employable in a wide range of roles and industries. And the legal implications of rapidly developing and ever-evolving technological advancements should only increase demand for specialist expertise.
Perhaps you’re motivated by the power that legal knowledge and skills brings, with the promise of a lucrative salary. Maybe you’re looking for a rewarding career in justice and advocacy that allows you to make a real impact on society, or give something back to your community.
Regardless, you believe that a law degree can be the ideal way to take your career to more satisfying, empowering heights.
At least that’s how it looks on the surface. But is law really a good career for the future? We’ve investigated some of the facts, figures and trends around the various career options available after law school.
We hope the information will help you answer this question for yourself.
Does working in a law firm offer good career prospects in Australia?
While not everyone who graduates with a law degree works in a law firm, this is often the first career option most law students think of. And with good reason: here in Australia, law is a solid career choice with services that are in strong – and increasing – demand.
For example, in Thomson Reuters Institute’s 2021 Australia: State of the Legal Market report, they found that legal demand in Australian law firms increased by:
- an average of 2.2 per cent in the 2021 financial year (FY2021)
- an average of 7.4 per cent in the 2020 financial year (FY2020).
This increase happened because, despite a global pandemic, demand still soared for regulatory work, mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance and general corporate work.
Perhaps this played a part in the 5.3 per cent increase in the average profitability of Australian law firms in FY2021 to 36.8 per cent.
However, the report notes that the increase may also relate to more employees working from home and streamlining operations. The report found that 30 of the 50 largest Australian law firms now have a formal innovation function. This means those firms are now innovating in areas that include:
- client portals and legal operations consulting arms
- legal technology incubators and accelerators.
Graduate outcomes: the career environment after law school
It’s great to know that demand for law services is strong. But what does that mean for individual graduates? What can you realistically expect in terms of finding a great job as a lawyer? And what can you expect in terms of payment?
To answer this, we turned to the 2021 Graduate Outcomes Survey from Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT). This survey is part of a suite of Australian Government-funded surveys for higher education.
The survey found that 72.5 per cent of law and paralegal students in 2021 had secured a full-time job within four to six months of graduating. This compared to 68.9 per cent of students across all study areas.
Meanwhile, the survey found that the median starting salary for law graduates was $66,800, slightly higher than $65,000 for all other study areas. However, this salary has the potential to quickly rise. For example, private practice lawyers with two years post-qualification experience, are currently earning up to $129,000 in top-tier Sydney law firms.
As your experience grows, so too can your income. If you work your way up to Counsel level, you could earn upwards of $200,000-$350,000 in a top-tier firm in Melbourne or Sydney.
Of course, these figures are forever evolving as new practice areas of law emerge.
For example, Intellectual Property (IP) law is a rapidly growing specialisation as technology advances and issues surrounding publishing content on social media platforms increase. The area becomes even more complex when IP cases span the globe, and different laws and legal frameworks come into play.
To be a patent lawyer in Australia, you need to have obtained a bachelor’s degree in a scientific or engineering discipline. A Juris Doctor degree may be an ideal solution for you if you already have suitable technical qualifications but still need the legal qualifications to work as a patent lawyer.
Another particularly topical area as we write this article is vaccine regulation and the issues surrounding IP and health. It may be cliche to say we live in ‘unprecedented times’, but many contemporary challenges such as COVID-19 raise previously untested legal issues such as the limits of autonomy, freedom of movement and expression, worker rights, government power, and intellectual property over vaccines and treatments. That means Australia will need increasing numbers of specialists in this field.
Meanwhile, if your interests lean toward finance and economics, the regulation of global finance is another rapidly advancing area of interest. Specifically, new forms of finance technologies, such as cryptocurrency and blockchain, are evolving. That means the legal framework needs to evolve with them.
In short, if your legal career takes you into these areas, demand and salary might well be even higher.
Does the type of law degree you do affect your job opportunities?
In Australia, you have two options when it comes to studying for a law degree:
- an undergraduate Bachelor of Laws degree
- or a postgraduate Juris Doctor degree, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline.
Typically, a Bachelor of Laws course takes four years to complete in Australia. After finishing Year 12 or completing an equivalent qualification, students can enrol in either a single degree course or a combined degree course. The combined degree course takes around five years to complete.
But, if you already have an undergraduate degree in another discipline and are working full-time, you can do a postgraduate Juris Doctor degree online. This master’s degree-level program will take you four years if you complete it part-time, or three if you fast-track it.
Both degree programs can be a step towards a traditional career in law. And both can help you to become a great lawyer.
However, if you’re a career professional who’s looking for a change, or simply want to advance your current career, a Juris Doctor degree may be the right choice for you.
Traditional career opportunities in law for Juris Doctor graduates
Around half of the graduates of our online Juris Doctor degree go on to practise in a law firm or in government law. Students who follow this career path can choose to work in legal roles that range from negotiating and drafting contracts, to advising on compliance with laws and regulations. They might also choose to work in litigation or with a big corporate law firm.
Some areas of the law you might choose to specialise in include commercial law, criminal law, contracts law or family law.
You could also choose from a range of traditional business law career options within large corporations. These might include negotiating commercial transactions or preparing bank mortgages.
If these careers interest you, you might like to learn more about how to become a lawyer in Australia.
Other career opportunities in law for Juris Doctor graduates
Some graduates choose to work as lawyers for non-governmental organisations or at community legal aid centres.
Those who are interested in a judiciary role might also work their way up towards becoming a judge. Typically, they’d start out as a judge’s associate, progress to becoming a barrister and finally gain appointment as a judge.
While positions at this level may be a longer-term goal, it’s more than possible if you have the required skills, dedication and commitment.
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Exploring job opportunities for Juris Doctor graduates
A Juris Doctor degree can also help you to examine their preferred jobs and career goals, and potentially change direction. The program allows you to explore a wide range of legal areas through a combination of core units and individual electives.
This means you might start off focusing on one broad area of legal practice, then realise you want to specialise in a specific area later on.
The program may be especially relevant if you’ve been doing the same type of job for many years, and it’s lost the satisfaction and reward it once had. Perhaps you want to contribute more meaningfully to your community, or start advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves. That might involve:
- helping elders who’ve experienced slips or falls, as a personal injury lawyer
- helping refugees who’ve lost everything in their home country, as an immigration lawyer
- helping victims of discrimination, bullying or harassment, as a mediator or arbitrator.
The job opportunities that a Juris Doctor degree opens up for you are limited only by your personal interests, goals and values. And as the world keeps rapidly evolving, those opportunities will only increase.
Careers you can pursue with a law degree
As we started to explore above, career options that are available after law school are diverse: from traditional law careers and working in-house, to working in government roles and for not-for-profit organisations.
Alternatively, there are other career paths that you may wish to consider. For example, those with law qualifications tend to do well in journalism. That’s because legal studies are a great way to develop critical thinking skills, strong investigative skills and impeccable attention to detail.
Or if you have a keen interest in human resources, detailed knowledge of the legal profession might help you find your niche in providing specialist legal recruitment services.
If you have a passion for politics or social justice, a law degree could be a stepping stone to advocating for and creating change at a higher level. Some of the global leaders who started their careers in law include both Barack and Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
Other opportunities might include roles in:
- management consulting
- wealth management and investment banking
- police prosecution
Associate Professor Dr Trevor Ryan, who teaches Legal Theory and Constitutional Law at the University of Canberra agrees that the possibilities are endless. “There’s such a wide range of careers in law that there are options for everyone,” he says.
And when he says ‘everyone’, Dr Ryan isn’t just talking about career paths. He’s also speaking about balancing your career with your other life goals.
“Perhaps you’re willing to put long, long hours into building your career and working your way up the ladder,” he adds. “Or maybe you're more interested in ‘New Law’, where the firms have a much flatter, more collaborative structure with flexible working hours. Either way, law can be a great career for your future.”
The verdict: is law a good career for your future?
So is law actually a strategic career option? Based on the facts and figures – not to mention the wide range of career opportunities a law degree opens up – we certainly think so.
Whether you want to practise law in a traditional role or use the skills you learn during your degree in a different way, there’s an option for you. And with demand only increasing as new areas emerge, law really does offer a future-proofed career.
If you’re still unsure about studying law, we’ve put together a collection of answers to some of the most common questions about becoming a lawyer.
Or if you’re ready to take the next step, ask about our online Juris Doctor course now.