Law and the Legal System

Australia’s legal system is based on English common law. The High Court is the highest court, hearing cases appealed from the lower courts as well as being the final arbiter on constitutional issues. Tribunals, which administer areas such as workplace relations, land valuation, equal opportunity and administrative appeals, also form a significant part of the legal system.

Lawyers are described as solicitors or barristers, depending on the work they do. The distinction between solicitors and barristers varies between states.

The work

Some of the tasks lawyers typically perform include:

  • providing legal advice
  • drafting legal documents
  • mediation and negotiation
  • representing clients at court and tribunal hearings
  • research.

Lawyers can work for small or large legal firms, government departments, large corporate entities (such as banks or insurance companies) or as solo practitioners. They often specialise in a certain area, such as commercial, criminal or family law.

Rising student numbers in recent years, combined with the current economic climate, mean that some law graduates must find work outside the legal field. Unlike many other professions, there are usually too few jobs for the number of graduates, so competition for graduate positions is intense. Most students undertake a combined law degree, although a single law degree is also available at some universities. Graduates with a double degree, most commonly law and commerce, may find it easier to gain employment.

(This profile also appears in GCA’s annual Graduate Opportunities directory. GCA would like to thank the Queensland Law Society for assisting with this profile.)

What you need

  • Law degree
  • Pre-admission practical legal training
  • Admission into legal practice
  • A practising certificate
  • The requirements and nature of practical legal training and practising certificates can vary from state to state; refer to the peak legal body in your state

Money matters

Graduate salary ranges for selected relevant occupations are as follows:

  • Law clerk: $40,000–$53,000
  • Legal executive: $45,000–$60,000
  • Legal secretary: $35,000–$46,000
  • Judicial/other legal professional: $44,000–$58,000
  • Solicitor: $42,000–$60,000

(Figures taken from from the Australian Graduate Survey 2008, GCA. Ranges refer to the middle 50 per cent of salaries for bachelor degree graduates with permanent residency, in full-time employment in Australia October 2007 to April 2008.)

Industry at a glance

  • 80% of the female workforce are conveyancers and legal executives
  • 77% of the male workforce are barristers
  • Positive outlook (15% growth: barristers, 2007–09)


Further Resources

Careers for Law Graduates