The UNSW Law Careers team are acutely attuned to the impact of the changes taking place in and around the legal profession and, in this context, provide service designed to assist Law students transition from the University to the marketplace.  

From advising how to ‘forward plan your career’, tips on gaining work experience, preparing job applications and staying up to date with topical issues in the legal profession, our service is here to assist you.  

Our UNSW Law Careers team offers seminars on preparing for clerkships and graduate positions, drafting job applications and career planning. We also host panel discussions throughout the year showcasing a broad range of legal industry professionals to keep our students informed about current and emerging issues with the legal industry.  

Contact the team on law.careers@unsw.edu.au or (02) 9385 9479/1634.

Career paths
Law firms

Working as a solicitor at a law firm has long been the traditional starting point in the career paths of many Law graduates. 

Law firms come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some firms have incorporated, although the majority are still partnerships. More recently, a new breed of law firm – collectively called ‘NewLaw’ – have entered the legal landscape. 

Law firms include: 

  • General practices – both city and suburban – which undertake a mix of legal work such as property, wills and estates, tax, family and criminal law 
  • Specialist boutique firms -–which offer specialist legal services in a specific field, such as construction, information technology, family, criminal and employment/industrial relations law, to name a few 
  • The larger city commercial firms – both national and international -–which offer legal services across a range of practice areas, such as banking and finance, corporate and commercial law, local government and environmental law, intellectual property, information technology, competition law, dispute resolution, construction and infrastructure, etc. 
  • NewLaw – the startups of the legal world. These are often niche businesses blending technology with process-driven solutions and pricing strategies. Although still in their infancy, NewLaw firms range from secondment models, legal process outsourcers, on-line lawyer registries or quoting services and tech-driven businesses through to full-service law firms that prioritise flexible arrangements and innovative pricing. 
  • LegalVision's white paper – “Transforming the Legal Landscape: the NewLaw Philosophy” – provides an interesting introduction to NewLaw and some of the key trends driving innovation in the legal industry, including the use of technology and alternative methods for the delivery of legal services.  

A successful career in private practice generally culminates in promotion to partnership or a directorship with the firm. 

The experience gained in private practice can also serve as a valuable stepping-stone to a career in-house, at the Bar or in a range of senior commercial, strategic and management roles. 

Corporate roles

Most larger corporations have a dedicated legal team to advise the business and management on the various legal matters affecting the company. In-house legal teams are growing steadily in size and influence, and are found in most sectors – from banks and financial institutions, to construction, pharmaceutical, resources and media companies. The importance of the in-house legal function is reflected in the fact that the legal team increasingly also shoulders responsibility for the company secretarial, corporate governance and risk and compliance functions for the company. In-house legal roles are a valuable stepping-stone to senior management, commercial and strategic roles. 

Government and Policy

Lawyers working in government and public policy areas are at the forefront of law reform and public administration. 

The Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers publication, Careers Guide to Public Law and Government  and the 2017 UNSW Law Society Public Interest Careers Guide contain a wealth of information, advice and profiles of lawyers working in a wide range of jobs in public law and government. 

The NSW Government Graduate Program is a wonderful opportunity to see and learn first-hand how government works. Participants will receive 18 months of work experience across a range of government agencies, including the Department of Premier & Cabinet, Department of Justice, Department of Planning and Environment and Treasury, to name a few. An offer of ongoing employment will be made on successful completion of the program.  

For further details watch the video from the NSW Government Graduate Program Information Evening held at NSW Parliament House. 

To apply for a role in the NSW Government, see the ‘How to Guide for Candidates' published by the NSW Public Service Commission. 

NGOs

Public interest law aims to assist those groups in our society who are vulnerable and are unable to represent themselves – for example, socially disadvantaged, women, children and the elderly, people with physical disabilities and mental health issues, Indigenous people, refugees, asylum seekers, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people in detention and prisoners. Public interest law also aims to represent those parts of our society that cannot speak for themselves, such as animals and the environment. 

Public interest lawyers work in a range of organisations, both national and international. A non-exhaustive list of these organisations includes community legal centres, non-legal community organisations, government (at all levels, including the United Nations), the Bar and the judiciary (including both national and international courts and tribunals), non-government organisations (NGOs), not-for-profits, universities, the diplomatic service, the military and emergency services, security organisations, the media, international trade organisations and monetary funds. 

Lawyers in private practice can also work in the public interest space, particularly if they are providing their services pro bono (i.e. for free, or at a significantly reduced fee). 

The breadth of legal experience gained in public interest law is wide-ranging and may include criminal, human rights and humanitarian, environmental, Indigenous, immigration/refugee, employment, health, tenancy, administrative, property and commercial law. 

It may also include advocacy in a more general sense, such as policy, politics, lobbying, making submissions to government, education, journalism and social media, research, community and aid work, negotiation, security and diplomacy. 

Lawyers who work in rural, regional and remote areas may also find themselves practising in the public interest sphere due to the smaller community size and relatively larger proportion of Indigenous people. 

Gaining as much experience as possible in public interest law, for example as a volunteer or intern, is key to starting a career in the field. Due to the nature of public interest law, many roles in this area are initially unpaid, however, there are some (often highly contested) opportunities that are paid or provide a travel or meal allowance. 

Internships 

UNSW Law students can intern at a range of public interest organisations and gain course credit. Find more information about internships onsite at UNSW and with external organisation. For more information see here

Careers guides 

Read the National Pro Bono Resource Centre and Australian Law Student’s Association Social Justice Opportunities: A Career Guide for Law Students and New Lawyers

Job websites 

Australia 

International 

The Bar

Read a Guide to Becoming a Barrister in New South Wales

To become a barrister you must: 

  • Be admitted as a lawyer in an Australian jurisdiction 

Before you can apply for a NSW barrister's practising certificate, you must be admitted as a lawyer of the Supreme Court of NSW or another Australian state or territory under a corresponding law. 

You can go straight to the Bar after University, but it is recommended you work for at least 18 months first. This is so you can make connections and see whether litigating at the bar is the path you want to follow. 

  • Pass the NSW Bar examination 

The NSW Bar Exam is offered twice a year, and as of 2016, the three subjects (Legal Ethics for Barristers, Aspects of Evidence, and Practice and Procedure for Barristers) are examined in one integrated NSW Bar Examination. You must pass this examination before commencing the Bar Practice Course. 

  • Apply for an Australian practising certificate (there are conditions attached for readers) 

Access the application form

Read the conditions for readers

  • Complete the Reading Program 

When a lawyer is issued with an initial practising certificate with reader conditions, he or she is termed a 'reader'. The reader embarks on the Reading Program, which has two major elements – the Bar Practice Course and reading with a tutor. 

Bar Practice Course 

The Bar Practice Course must be undertaken within 15 months of passing the Bar examination. The fee is $3,800.00. It is a very intensive course involving advocacy training, mock applications (before real judges) and seminars. There is homework and some sessions take place on the weekend. A reader has no right to appear in court without being led by another barrister until the course is completed. 

Reading with a tutor 

The period of reading is often referred to as a ‘reading year’ and starts when the practising certificate with reader conditions is issued and continues for a minimum of 12 months. During that time, the reader remains under the supervision of at least one experienced barrister, who is called a tutor. 

It is advisable to apply for a reader’s position at a Barristers’ Chambers, and to do this before signing up for the Bar examination. The Bar Association website has dates and application details. 

  • Hold professional indemnity insurance 

Professional indemnity insurance is a statutory requirement for all barristers in New South Wales. Find out more about professional indemnity insurance.  

Judge’s Associate Program

The Judge’s Associateship Program led by Professor Rosalind Dixon is a unique opportunity for UNSW Law students to gain exclusive insight to the associate and tipstaff application process. The Hon. Justice Keith Mason will provide individual mentoring as well as expert advice and application tips for a select cohort of Law students committed to the application process. This will be conducted in a one-on-one interview. 

Watch the video about the Judge’s Associateship Program.  

Role of the associate or tipstaff  

A judge's associate or tipstaff assists the judge in conducting legal research and preparing judgments. They also perform a range of court-related duties in Chambers and in-court duties during proceedings. The appointment is generally a year-long contract. It is also worth noting that some courts and tribunals offer research positions.  

For more information about courts in Australia and specifically, NSW. For more information on when and where to apply see here

What are the benefits? 

An associate/tipstaff position at the High Court, Federal Court and Court of Appeal level offers an exclusive opportunity to watch and learn about the country's most complex legal issues from the finest appellate lawyers, and to witness advocacy in action.  At the Supreme Court, associates gain similar experience, but also learn practical litigation skills related to the conduct of trials. 

Prerequisites 

Appointments to such roles are highly sought after. For instance, the High Court of Australia generally requires students to have graduated with First Class Honours.  Prerequisites, however, will vary by Court and we recommend that you read, understand and consider the selection criteria to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements of the associate or tipstaff role for the Court. 

Other alternatives

A Law degree at UNSW equips you with more than just legal skills. Many of our graduates pursue interesting and rewarding careers in banking, consulting, professional services, media/journalism, among others. 

Management consulting 

Management consulting is a client-service-based industry assisting businesses to develop and deconstruct their strategy, management and operations. Consultants are usually employed to improve an organisation's performance by solving commercial problems and providing solutions. Consulting firms can service both private sector clients as well as public sector organisations. Consulting firms provide the opportunity to work for a variety of clients on different projects spanning industries as well as geographic locations. Working in management consulting also provides you with a breadth of commercial understanding and management skills, which are highly transferrable into the business world.  

Professional services firms 

Professional services firms support businesses of all sizes across a variety of industries. They can provide specialist advice and ensure regulatory compliance for clients ranging from accounting/auditing, strategic advice, tax support to legal services.  

Investment banking  

Investment bankers offer clients strategic advice and financial solutions concerning areas such as mergers, acquisitions, asset management, financing and risk management transactions. They are often involved in advising company executives about IPOs, purchasing of companies, debt or equity raising and restructuring over a vast range of industries.  

Media 

Media law regulates the production and use of media, including broadcast media – radio and television – as well as film, digital and print. The practice of media law can involve a wide range of regulations and issues. For example, multimedia lawyers might work in software licensing and sale regulations, while broadcast media lawyers might work in technology, innovation, commercial and intellectual property law. 

Academia  

Most academic positions require a minimum of a postgraduate qualification, and you will find the analytical and problem-solving skills gained in a Juris Doctor (JD) program can be helpful in these roles. Law graduates with an interest in academic or research roles often begin by taking on tutoring or short-term research projects and you may find opportunities to join the UNSW Law School, as well as other higher education institutions. 

Summer clerkships and graduate employment

Summer clerkships are offered by law firms and some government departments for students to undertake summer vacation employment at the end of their penultimate year. These clerkships allow students to see what life is like working as a legal practitioner and to make informed decisions about future employment. 

The Law Society of NSW coordinates the Summer Clerkship Program (open to students in their penultimate year) and the Graduate Employment Program (open to final-year law students) on behalf of law schools and law firms in NSW. 

Read the Summer Clerkship Program and the Graduate Employment Program for more information (including key dates). Explore all these opportunities and more by visiting LegalVitae

The summer clerkship process
The online application

The clerkship process begins with an online application. This usually involves uploading your resume and cover letter. You may also be required to answer a few written questions (see below), and/or complete a personality/psychometric test. The recent adoption of the Rare Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) by some firms, factors in demographic, geographic and educational data to get a fuller profile of the applicant. There is also the option to set out any hardship or mitigating factors which you feel are relevant to your application.

Do I have the marks to make the grade?

Most firms report that they read all applications that come through and only then proceed with the elimination process. Even if your WAM is below a Distinction, students averaging a solid Credit are encouraged to apply.

How long does each application take and how many should I do?

For your resume to be ready to go, it should be a maximum of one to two pages, contain no spelling mistakes and have consistent formatting. 

Each cover letter must be tailored to the firm in question and show some original research. Original research does not mean simply rehashing something on the firm’s website. Ideally, you will showcase your research via an interesting example of work the firm has undertaken or is involved in. The cover letter should also reflect your interest in joining the firm and undertaking the type of work one would expect in a commercial law firm. 

Tip: Commercial law is broader than mergers and acquisitions, and includes areas such as intellectual property, litigation, banking and finance and construction, to name a few. 

Each application will take from between one to three hours – it is a lengthy and quite arduous process. 

Err on the side of more rather than less. Increase your odds by applying to as many firms as you have time.  Students report applying on average to 10–12 firms for clerkships.

Types of questions

There are three broad categories of questions: 

  • Those about you (talk about your achievements and activities listed on your resume) 
  • Behavioural questions (think of the qualities you might be expected to demonstrate as a lawyer and then think of the times in your life when they came into play) 
  • Technical/commercial questions (employers will often try to ascertain your commerciality, your understanding of the legal industry and business generally)
Job Application Resources

Access our careers resources and make an appointment with a UNSW Legal Profession Careers Advisor. 
 

Law Jobs Board

Our dedicated Jobs Board showcases a variety of current employment opportunities.