Employment Panorama looks at a profession where you can make some serious money. And work some seriously long hours…
by Warren Heggarty
Not all work in the legal field requires that you have a law degree. Solicitors and Barristers require double degrees, Paralegals require TAFE or University qualifications, Secretaries do not necessarily have to have qualifications, though it would be a help.
In NSW and Queensland the roles of Solicitors and Barristers are quite separate but this is not so in some other states.
Australian Department of Education’s job guide for NSW and ACT lists the following personal requirements as essential for a legal career.
Good oral and written communication skills
Able to understand, analyse and use facts quickly and logically
Able to work under pressure and deal with a variety of people
Integrity and good character.
Most new lawyers begin their careers as a solicitor, working in a legal office then work their way up the legal ladder (see Legal Partner box). Solicitors usually, but not always, work in firms, ranging from two people to hundreds of people in size.
Lawyers can also work as in-house legal counsel for companies, or for government departments, or in the community services sector. Some lawyers become judges associates which leads us to the other main type of lawyer, the barrister.
Some lawyers choose to become members of The Bar. Barristers receive work by referral from solicitors and are engaged to represent clients in court. Barristers must have a sound knowledge of the rules of evidence and court procedure. They need to work out the appropriate strategy and arguments to present in court and also to give advice in matters of law. Barristers generally operate independently rather than in partnership. And yes, in some jurisdictions they wear wigs and gowns!
Magistrates and Judges preside over court cases and have usually worked their way up through the ranks as solicitors and barristers.
Magistrates hear criminal matters to determine whether defendants will be committed for trial. They also judge criminal offences without a jury.
Judges preside over civil and criminal proceedings in courts. They make sure that trials are run fairly and according to the rules of law and evidence.
Legal Secretary and Paralegal jobs
While waiting to complete your law degrees you will need to earn money so why not look at jobs that do not necessarily require legal qualifications!
In the advertisements that Panorama looked at, there were a number of things that recurred time and time again. Law firms often stipulate that their employees be hardworking, well presented and have attention to detail. Actually, these qualities will serve you well in ANY sort of occupation.
A law firm in Tamworth NSW recently advertised for a ‘Legal Secretary and Personal Assistant to Partner.’ Essential requirements were:
A Fast and accurate typing and dictation transcription
B Interpersonal skills
C Oral Communication skills
D Written Communication Skills
E Organisation skills
F Attention to detail
G Able to work autonomously/ initiative
I Microsoft Word and Outlook
J Well presented
K Hard working
Legal Office Junior
In Sydney, a firm advertised for an Office Junior to do reception, mail and court filing, set up meetings, do photocopying and printing, take care of office supplies and do other secretarial work. The following were essential requirements:
B, C, D, E, G, H, J and K above plus
L Eager to learn
M Honesty and Integrity
N Time management
O Multi tasking
P Confident communicator
Family Law Secretary
In Wollongong a firm is advertising for a Family Law Secretary and they require that you have a general experience across all family law matters- so you would need some previous legal office experience. The other essentials emphasised are:
F, H and J above, plus
Q Take ownership of tasks assigned to you
R Focused on quality service to clients
A law firm in Parramatta NSW was looking for a Paralegal to work on motor vehicle accidents and possibly later move into family law. The work involves drafting particulars and applications, and handling personal injury and liability claims, so you will need some knowledge of legal processes. There would seem to be a lot of sensitive communications in this job because it stipulates ‘working with other solicitors, insurance companies, barristers, doctors by managing challenging conversations.’ Other essential requirements were:
B, C, D, I and R above plus:
S Knowledge of LEAP (a legal practice management software)
T Able to apply compassion and empathy with clients
What is a Legal Partner?
The usual career path of a lawyer looks like this: training, employment as a solicitor, promotion to associate in a law firm, promotion to a senior associate, promotion to partner. The term ‘partner’ in a law firm, accounting firm, consulting firm, or financial firm usually indicates co-ownership of a business partnership in which the partners get a share of the profits (“equity partners.”) The top of the ladder is ‘principal’ or ‘principal partner.’ To become a principal (partner) of a law firm or a sole practitioner, you may need to undertake a Legal Practice Management Course (The College of Law).
You will often see ‘multitasking’ in job ads, especially in ads which involve secretarial or reception work. No one can really do two things at once. What they mean by ‘multitasking’ is the ability to be interrupted, to determine the relative priority of the interruption, and to choose whether to go ahead with the interruption or continue with what you were doing until completion. If you constantly reassess your priorities you can certainly give the impression that you are doing several things at once.
The College of Law. (n.d.). Career options for lawyers. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from The College of Law: \
Australian Department of Education Job Guide for NSW and ACT