What if I told you, you could become a lawyer in just three years?
I’d be lying, of course.
Everyone knows that becoming a lawyer is a long, tedious process but there are steps you can take to shorten the process... slightly.
Some countries have a shorter law school requirement, some let you study law as an undergrad, and some don’t require practical courses.
Regardless of where you go to law school you definitely won’t become a lawyer in three years, but it's possible to make it happen in six or seven years!
Step 1: Study the right subjects
Your 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 uni!
- Australia/New Zealand: English
- United Kingdom: A Level English
- United States: English
- Australia/New Zealand: History, Writing, Maths, Psychology
- United Kingdom: A Level Writing, History, Maths Psychology
- United States: AP English Literature/Language, US History/Comparative Government, AP Psychology
Step 2: Get a degree
It’s impossible to become a lawyer without a degree (unless you’re Mike Ross from Suits and can fake your Harvard diploma… which I don’t recommend you do), so you’ll need to spend a good chunk of your time learning about law and how to become a good lawyer before you ever see a case.
In Australia, you’ll spend a minimum of four years studying to become a lawyer. You’ll pursue one of two degrees: a Bachelor of Law degree a.k.a. LLB (4 years) or a combined LLB (5+ years).
Check out Meg's journey through the University of New South Wales law program!
In New Zealand, an LLB takes four years of full time study to complete and a combined LLB takes five.
Students in the US spend the longest time getting a law degree. First, you need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in a completely different subject (law isn’t offered as an undergraduate course), which takes four years. Then, you’ll complete your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which takes another three years. So all in all you’ll be in school for at least seven years. Sorry, mate!
Remember when I said you have to go to school in order to become a lawyer?
It’s true… unless you’re in the UK! Let me back up a bit. Most lawyers do obtain a law degree in the UK; however, it’s not a necessity because of... apprenticeships!
You can take part in these programs to qualify either as a solicitor (6-7 years), legal technician (2-3 years) or legal support (12-18 months). The best part is, an apprenticeship allows you to enter into law directly after high school.
However, if you’re looking for a more common route, there are two university paths you could take to become a lawyer. You can either get a Bachelor’s degree in any subject (three years) and then complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which takes another two years.
The GDL is an accelerated degree program that teaches you everything you need to know about law. Basically, it’s a full LLB in a shorter amount of time! Alternatively, you can complete the typical LLB (3 years) or a combined LLB (5+ years).
Confused? To sum it all up, Aus/NZ’s law school takes at least four years, the US' takes at least seven, and the UK's takes at least three.
Therefore, the UK wins the law school round!
But wait, you’re not off the hook yet. There’s a lot more to becoming a lawyer than just law school.
Best universities for law
Where you study can make a big difference in how fast you become a practising lawyer, so it’s important to be strategic in your university selection.
Law is a ridiculously competitive career around the world but, one of the best ways to get a leg up is by going to a top international university.
More often than not, getting hired at a great 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.
You could spend a good chunk of your life studying to become a lawyer and never actually become a lawyer.
It seems as though the only way to secure a job is to get top grades at a top university and a multitude of top internships.
Top, top, top!
That being said there are a few things you can do to almost guarantee you a grad job in law, such as going to university in the US of A.
American law schools are internationally recognised as some of the best in the world, and even though studying in the US definitely isn’t the quickest road to lawyerville, it can save you years of job hunting down the track.
Many of these unis are considered Big Law “feeder schools”, which means that the nation's largest law firms (collectively nicknamed Big Law) recruit from these colleges almost exclusively and attending one of them will “feed” you your dream job.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by Big Law firms in the US:
+ Kirkland & Ellis was established in 1909 and is the world's second highest grossing law firm with USD $2.65 billion in annual revenues. With more than 1,900 lawyers across 13 global offices, Kirkland is known for paying associates more than the market average, generously handing out performance based bonuses. Get this: the starting salary for first-year associates is $180,000. All those years of study definitely pay off they lead to a job at Kirkland!
+ Jones Day was founded in 1893 and is the biggest law firm in the US, with over 2,500 lawyers on its books and 44 offices scattered around the world. Bringing in USD $1.98 billion annually, it ain't doing too bad in the revenue stakes, either. A big chunk of this haul comes from over half of the Fortune 500 for which Jones provides legal representation, including General Motors and Goldman Sachs.
+ DLA Piper is just a baby in comparison, having only been around since 2005, but it gives the others a run for their money with $2.48 billion in revenues year on year. Not bad for a youngen! Headquartered in New York, DLA has 77 offices around the world and employs more than 3,700 lawyers.
Many US unis have formed strong relationships with these firms and they can hook you right up come graduation day (or even before!).
On the other hand, if you’d rather work back in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong or even the UK after law school, going to uni in the US gives you a massive edge on domestically educated students. Plus, most of these firms have offices in these countries or alliances with local firms.
On that note...
Top 5 Big Law feeder schools in the US
So who are they, these top feeder schools?
According to the National Law Journal, these five US universities send the most graduates to top 100 law firms:
1. Columbia University: New York City, New York
Percentage of students that go to Big Law after graduation: 57.07%
QS World University Ranking: 9
2. University of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois
Percentage of students that go to Big Law after graduation: 48.84 %
QS World University Ranking: 10
3. Northwestern University: Chicago, Illinois
Percentage of students that go to Big Law after graduation: 47.58 %
QS World University Ranking: 51-100
4. Cornell University
Percentage of students that go to Big Law after graduation: 47.54 %
QS World University Ranking: 34 (tied with Seoul National University)
5. New York University (NYU): New York City, New York
Percentage of students that go to Big Law after graduation: 47.42 %
QS World University Ranking: 6
See? You don’t even need to go to a top 10 ranked university to get a top job. It really is all about who you know, and these unis have the kind of industry connections that can send you straight to the top of your field.
Top 5 law universities in the UK
While we're on the topic, I must also mention the top 5 UK law schools since they offer the shortest law degree available… not to mention their unis are also world renowned so going to one could get you a job anywhere in the world!
1. University of Oxford: Oxford, UK
QS World University Ranking: 2
2. University of Cambridge: Cambridge, UK
QS World University Ranking: 3
3. London School of Economics (LSE): London, England
QS World University Ranking: 7
4. University College London (UCL): London, England
QS World University Ranking: 12
5. King’s College London: London, England
QS World University Ranking: 18 (tied with The University of Hong Kong)
Step 3: Get ahead in law school
It’s pretty much impossible to become a lawyer without summer internships or clerkships.
Summer expectations are different around the world, but in order to get ahead of the game and up your chances of getting hired, you need to do something productive and law related every summer while you’re in law school.
For example, the Australian Federal Court has a three month volunteer program that allows you to gain practical experience in development projects.
In New Zealand, you can get a summer clerkship position in the summer before graduation, which can lead to a full time job! However, you may be able to find some smaller summer internships in law before your final year that will help you land a great summer clerkship when the time comes.
If you’re studying in the UK, the best way to get a great training contract (more on this later) and ultimately a job is by completing a vacation scheme.
Like in NZ, vacation schemes are technically only available to students in their final year of law school but there are many other ways you can gain experience in the summers leading up to your final year.
You can apply to smaller firms, ask your friends and family about job leads and/or work for companies connected to your interests such as the government or homeless shelters.
The US has the most intensive summer requirements by far.
Most students intern every summer both in during undergrad and graduate (law) school, so the best students often enter the job market with at least FIVE internships under their belt, if not more.
It’s kinda insane.
While studying your undergrad, you can get an internship in almost anything but the more involved in law you are, the better. Think: small local law firms, an in-house legal department or even working for your local representative.
What you do in the summer after your first year of law school can make or break what you do in the summer after your second year, and ultimately decide who hires you in the long run.
Sounds like a lot of pressure, huh!
As always, a good place to start is to apply to smaller law firms or even try to intern with a judge or professor.
Then, after your second year of law school, use all of your experience and your hard earned grades to get the best summer associate position possible.
The ultimate goal is to get hired by your internship in year two for a full time job after you graduate.
I know how tiring all of this sounds. I know summer is supposed to be a time to relax and get away from school, but as a law student (especially an impatient one!) your priorities have to be different.
The more practical skills you can develop through meaningful summer experiences, the more competitive you’ll be in the job market come graduation.
If you thought the only time you could gain practical experience was during the summer, you’re wrong.
In order to gain a prestigious summer position, you need to go above and beyond the rest of your classmates. While having a good GPA helps, you also need to fill the rest of your time in school with loads of relevant experience (especially if your GPA ain't so good).
However, these experiences don’t have to be boring!
In most countries, you can go court watching, which is sort of like a live version of your favorite law show.
You can join different 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!
Plus, the more creative and out of the box get, the more interesting you’ll be to employers.
Think about what kind of law interests you and find extracurricular activities both in school and out of school that support your interests.
Volunteer at a homeless shelter every week. Shadow your favorite government official. Work in a not-for-profit that helps domestic abuse victims find jobs.
Find ways to make yourself stand out and your hard work will pay off in the long run.
Step 4: Get Certified
Your journey to becoming a lawyer is almost complete! All you have to do now is get certified!
Sounds simple, right?
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
+ Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP): Consists of both a formal coursework component and a work experience component. The GDLP takes about 6-12 months but you can start it before you graduate as long as you complete all of your mandatory law courses.
+ Supervised Workplace Training: Only available in Victoria and Queensland. At least 12 months.
+ Clerkship: The least common way of completing the PLT, usually only for people who already have a legal job. At least 12 months.
After you complete your PLT, you apply for certificate of practice. All in all the process should take around 1 to 2 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) and multiple course options you can choose from. The shortest programs are 13 weeks and the longest are 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 certificate of completion(40 working days) from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education (NZCLE), get a certificate of character from 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.
In the UK, you need to complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC) if you want to become a solicitor or a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) if you want to be a barrister.
The LPC usually takes two years to complete, plus another two year training contract.
The BPTC takes around a year, plus another year of pupillage (basically, an apprenticeship).
All you need to do after you graduate law school in the US is 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 multistate bar exam and a state specific exam).
Step 5: Secure a grad job
Yay, you did it!
Depending on the path you took, you're probably quite a bit older, definitely a little bit wiser, and officially a lawyer!
So… which pathway is the shortest?
In Australia, it’ll take you at least five years.
In New Zealand, it’ll take you at least four years and 10 months.
In the US, it’ll take you at least seven years.
In the UK, it’ll take you at least five years.
So our winner is…..
Wow, those Kiwis came out of nowhere! I thought it was going to be the UK all along.
But however short it may be, it’s important to keep in mind that the job market for law in Australia and New Zealand isn’t as healthy as it is in the US and the UK, so if you actually want to work in law, your best bet might be to study where the jobs are... even if it's not quite the study schedule you had in mind.
Plus… there’s always grad school!!
The truth is, trying to become a lawyer as quickly as possible isn’t necessarily going to land you a great job... or any job at all.
It’s more important to take 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.
If you want a job where you can get certified quickly, maybe you should think about becoming a doctor?
Just kidding :)