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Many high school students dream of careers in law. Some have strong feelings about social justice, others want to defend those who can’t protect themselves, and some just dream of working for a large law firm and making money. In any case, lawyers have the unique privilege of upholding the rule of law and championing the public good.
The path to a career in law can be complicated and confusing. This guide will help all aspiring lawyers better understand their career options and what it takes to become successful lawyers.
Many people picture lawyers as tough defenders dressed in sharp suits, pacing a courtroom. They glamorize lawyers based on what they see on television. While lawyers who prosecute and defend criminals do exist, many are involved in everyday life events like buying homes, writing wills, counseling, advocating, and negotiating. Government agencies, law firms, private businesses, non-profit organizations, and academia all have lawyers. They help the general public interpret laws, rulings, and regulations related to their personal and professional lives.
Lawyers advise clients and represent them in both criminal and civil cases. Typically, they give advice, prepare documents, and advise clients on legal transactions before they even step foot in a courtroom. Once in the courtroom, they help select jurors, argue motions, question
Law students typically choose a specific type of practice depending on whether they want to work in a corporate setting or help individual clients. Traditionally, solicitors and barristers make up the legal profession. A solicitor gives legal advice and can represent clients in courts. A barrister specializes in representing clients in courts.
Each type of lawyer has its own set of challenges, expectations, and perks. Here is just a sample of the many types of lawyers.
Many students choose law because they want to help people, groups, organizations, or companies solve challenging problems and manage their legal issues. Here are some other reasons students choose to study law.
|Junior lawyer/solicitor starting salary
|$118,474 USD a year
|$84,047 USD a year
|$68,658 USD a year
|$127,990 USD a year
Regardless of where you go to law school, it takes approximately six or seven years to become a lawyer. Many countries have slightly different requirements, including shorter law schools, studying law as an undergraduate, and practical course requirements. For example, in the US, you only go to law school after finishing your bachelor's degree, and UK universities offer law as an undergraduate and a graduate degree.
The road to becoming a lawyer starts in high school. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can set yourself up for a fast-tracked, successful law career before you even apply to a university.
Many university students, especially in the United States, choose to pursue law during or after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Since pre-law is not a major at US universities, it’s common to apply to law school with any major. It’s still essential to develop skills that translate to law school, including critical thinking, research, analytical skills, and strong writing ability. Ultimately, law schools will look at a student’s GPA, LSAT score, and extracurricular activities to determine if they are a good fit for their program.
It’s impossible to become a lawyer without a degree, so you’ll need to invest significant time learning about the law before you even see a case.
- Juris Doctor (JD):
To practice law in the United States, you need a JD degree. Considered the “first degree” in law, the JD is for anyone who wants to become a lawyer, become a law librarian, teach, or go into law consulting. It’s also helpful if you’re going to enter politics or work for an advocacy organization.
- Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
Universities in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand offer this 3-year undergraduate degree program. It’s a popular choice for students wishing to change careers.
- Master of Laws (LLM)
Students who choose the graduate-level LLM degree have the opportunity to study specific areas of law, expand their knowledge, advance their career, and earn international qualifications (if they received a law degree outside the US or Canada).
In Australia, you’ll spend a minimum of four years studying to become a lawyer. You’ll pursue one of two degrees: a 4-year Bachelor of Law degree (LLB) or a combined LLB (5+ years). In New Zealand, an LLB takes four years to complete, and a combined LLB takes five.
A law degree takes the longest in the United States. Before law school, students must complete a Bachelor’s degree in any subject (law isn’t an undergraduate degree), which takes four years. Then, students complete their Juris Doctor (JD) degree over the next three years. In total, law students in the United States are in school for at least seven years.
Students can choose one of two paths to becoming a lawyer in the UK.
They can get a bachelor’s degree in any subject (three years) and then complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which takes another two years. UK law students study for a total of five years. Designed to cover nearly the same content as an LLB degree in a shorter amount of time, the GDL allows non-law students to switch to law after university.
Alternatively, students can complete the typical LLB (3 years) or a combined LLB (5+ years).
There is a small loophole. While most lawyers do obtain a law degree in the UK, some do apprenticeships instead.
Through an apprenticeship program, students can qualify either as a solicitor (6-7 years), legal technician (2-3 years), or legal support (12-18 months). Additionally, an apprenticeship allows students to enter into law directly after high school.
You can get an LLB in the UK in three years. Studying in Australia/New Zealand takes at least four years to get a law degree. Finally, the US requires at least seven years of education to graduate with a law degree.
Bottom line, if you want to obtain a law degree as quickly as possible, get your degree in the UK.
It’s important to be strategic in university selection because it will make a difference in how fast you become a practicing lawyer. Since law is a competitive career, one of the best ways to get ahead is by going to a top international university.
Additionally, getting hired at a reputable firm is more about who you know, not what you know, especially in Australia and New Zealand, where many qualified lawyers never actually end up working in law. The best way to secure a job in Australia or New Zealand is to get excellent grades at a top university and find internships that connect you with influential people at respected law firms.
American law schools are internationally recognized as some of the best law schools in the world. Students with a US law degree are almost guaranteed a job after graduation. Even though studying in the US isn’t the quickest way to get your degree, it can save you years of job hunting.
Many US universities are considered Big Law “feeder schools.” That means the nation’s largest law firms (collectively nicknamed Big Law) recruit almost exclusively from these colleges. Attending one of them will “feed” you your dream job.
Here are a few examples of Big Law firms in the US:
Since many US universities have strong relationships with these firms, they can help you secure a position after graduation.
If you’d like to work in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, or the UK after law school, going to a university in the US will give you a massive edge on domestically educated students. Plus, most of these firms have offices in these countries or alliances with local firms.
|US Law Schools
|Law School Ranking 2023
|Percentage of students that go to a big law firm after graduation
|Columbia Law School
|New York City, New York
|US News Ranking: 8 QS World Ranking: 8
|Cornell Law School
|Ithaca, New York
|US News Ranking: 13 QS World Ranking: 34
|Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
|US News Ranking: 10 QS World Ranking: 63
|University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
|US News Ranking: 4 QS World Ranking: 27
|University of Chicago Law School
|US News Ranking: 3 QS World Ranking: 10
|UK Law Schools
|QS Law School Ranking 2023
|University of Cambridge
|University of Oxford
|The London School of Economics & Political Science
|University College of London
|University of Edinburgh
|Australia Law Schools
|QS Law School Ranking 2023
|The University of Melbourne
|The Australian National University
|The University of New South Wales
|The University of Sydney
It’s nearly impossible to become a lawyer without summer internships or clerkships. While studying your undergrad, you can get an internship almost anywhere, but you should find one related to law. Consider small local law firms, in-house legal departments, or even working for your local representative.
Your first internships often pave your future and may ultimately determine who hires you when you graduate. Start by applying to smaller law firms or even intern with a judge or professor. Get creative! After your second year of law school, use your experience and grades to get the best summer associate position possible. By year two, you should aim for a full-time job offer that begins after graduation.
The more practical skills you can develop through meaningful summer experiences, the more competitive you’ll be in the job market at graduation. To get ahead, you should aim to do something productive and law-related every summer you’re in law school.
The Australian Federal Court has a three-month volunteer program that allows you to gain practical experience in development projects.
In New Zealand, you may be able to find a summer internship in law before your final year. In your last summer before graduation, you can get a clerkship position that often leads to a full-time job.
If you’re studying in the UK, the best way to get a training contract and a job are by completing a vacation scheme.
Like New Zealand, vacation schemes are technically only available to students in their final year of law school. Still, there are many other ways you can gain experience in the summers leading up to your last year.
You can apply to smaller firms, ask your friends and family about job leads, and work for companies connected to your interests, such as the government or homeless shelters.
The US has the most intensive summer requirements. Most students intern every summer during their undergraduate and graduate (law) school years. The best students often enter the job market with at least FIVE internships under their belt, if not more.
To gain a prestigious summer position, you’ll need to go above and beyond the rest of your classmates. While a high GPA helps, you’ll need to fill the rest of your time with lots of relevant experience.
In most countries, you can watch court in session. You can also join networks of future lawyers, sign up to receive law news, join a mock trial, or even get your work published in a university law journal. The possibilities are endless!
Creative and out-of-the-box ideas get the attention of future employers. Think about what kind of law interests you and find extracurricular activities both in school and out of school that support your interests. Here are a few ideas:
Your journey to becoming a lawyer is almost complete! Now you need to get certified.
If you want to become a lawyer in Australia, you need to complete the Practical Legal Training (PLT), which teaches you the practical skills you need to become a lawyer. There are three ways to complete the PLT.
After you complete your PLT, you apply for a certificate of practice. The process takes about one to two years, depending on your route.
In New Zealand, you must complete a Professional Legal Studies Course (PLSC) after you graduate. There are two different providers: the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) and the College of Law New Zealand. The shortest programs are 13 weeks, and the longest is 18 weeks.
Like the PLT, these programs teach you the practical skills you need to become a lawyer.
After you finish your training, you need to obtain a certificate of completion from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education (NZCLE). Then you’ll need a certificate of character from the New Zealand Law Society (up to 3 months), be admitted to the bar(up to a month), and get a current practicing certificate (2-3 weeks).
The entire process should take about 10-12 months.
The LPC usually takes two years to complete, plus another two-year training contract.
The BPTC takes about a year, plus another year of pupillage (apprenticeship).
After you graduate from law school in the US, you only need to take the bar exam. Usually, you sit the ethics portion of the exam before your final year of law school and then take the second portion (which includes the multi-state bar exam and a state-specific exam).
What Makes Crimson Different
Congratulations, you’re a lawyer! If you’ve followed the steps above, you probably have a job, and you’re ready to begin your career.
Becoming a lawyer takes time, effort, and lots of patience. Depending on the country, it will take anywhere from 4+ years to 7+ years to officially become a lawyer. Here’s the breakdown:
While becoming a lawyer in New Zealand takes the least amount of time, the job market in Australia and New Zealand isn’t as healthy as it is in the US and the UK. Our best suggestion is to study in the area with the most jobs even if it takes a little longer to get through school.
It would be best if you took the time to learn the law, figure out what you’re interested in, and get relevant experience so that you can be the best lawyer possible.
Applying to universities can be daunting. Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specializing in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities, including top law schools like Harvard, Oxford, Columbia, or Northwestern.