Interested in becoming a lawyer? If so, you know that you have a long, competitive journey ahead of you.
However, are you aware of all of the paths you can take to become a lawyer?
Did you know that some options may be easier, cheaper, or quicker than others?
Or that you can study law in different countries and still go back home to practise?
Can you say, double the benefits?!
Let’s take a look at the options you have to study and/or work in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US, and help you figure out which path is for you!
Keep in mind that all four countries here are common law countries. This means that their legal system is characterised by case law, which is when laws are developed through judges and court decisions, not a codified system like in civil law. Because of this, it’s relatively simple to transfer your degree between countries.
Now, it’s time to get down to business.
We have a lot to discuss.
First up, Australia.
Studying Law in Australia
Everything you need to know about law down under.
Law Entry Requirements
Law degrees in Australia are very competitive, so you'll need a pretty good ATAR to get into a top uni.
I’m talking upwards of 99 for some unis!
Take a look at the ATAR scores required at the top 5 undergraduate law programs:
1. The University of Sydney: 99.50
2. The University of New South Wales: 99.70
3. Australian National University: 98.05-97 depending on your degree
4. Monash University: 94-98
5. University of Technology, Sydney: 99.50
Clearly, you need really high grades to get into a law degree immediately after high school.
Luckily, some unis, such as The University of New South Wales, also require the Law Admissions Test (LAT).
Having two points of academic reference gives you a bit of flexibility in your scores. For example, if you have an ATAR of 96, you’ll need a high LAT score to get in. However, if your ATAR scores are very high, you can get in with a lower LAT score.
Regardless, you’ll need to study very hard in high school in order to get the scores necessary to get into the majority of undergraduate law programs in Australia.
Australian law programs also require you to have superb English skills so make sure you brush up on those, too!
That being said, don’t give up on your dream of getting into law if your ATAR isn't high enough.
There are many other pathways you can take that don’t require you to give up your social life in high school!
However, before we discuss those options, let’s take a look at what undergraduate degrees are available in Australia.
Undergraduate Law Degrees
Australia is one of the few places in the world where you can study law as an undergrad, but as I’ve said, getting into one of these programs isn’t easy.
If you have the grades and the willpower, you’ll pursue one of two degrees:
- Bachelor of Law degree a.k.a. LLB (3-4 years)
- Combined LLB (5+ years)
The LLB is a straight law degree while the combined LLB requires you to explore law as well as another subject such as business.
Earning a combined degree is great if you don’t necessarily want to be a lawyer but do want to learn about law, or if you want to gain broader knowledge in a subject that will complement your law career.
There are only four unis that offer a standalone degrees:
+ University of Technology, Sydney: $8,416 USD a year for domestic students, $14,960 USD a year for international students
+ Macquarie University: $8,416 USD a year for domestic students, $28,833 USD a year for international students
+ The University of Notre Dame: $8,416 USD a year for domestic students, $17,845 USD a year for international students
+ University of New England: $8,416 USD a year for domestic students, $18,904 USD a year for international students
Keep in mind that just getting an undergraduate law degree will not enable you to actually practise law.
After completing your degree, you’ll need to take part in Practical Legal Training (PLT) in order to actually become a lawyer.
Practical Legal Training
There are three ways you can complete the PLT:
1. Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (6-12 months)
2. Master of Laws (Legal Practice) (continuation of your graduate legal diploma)
3. Supervised Workplace Training (12 months)
The average cost for the PLT is about $6,697 USD.
While your undergraduate degree will teach you the theoretical knowledge you need to become a lawyer (The Priestley 11), the PLT arms you with the practical skills.
After you complete both your degree and your PLT, you need to prove that you are a fit and proper person by disclosing any legal issues you have had in the past.
After you’re cleared, you’ll be admitted to the bar and obtain a practicing certificate.
Then, you can become a practising lawyer.
Using Your Aussie Law Degree Overseas
As a lawyer in Australia, you can practise law in your state or territory without any issues. However, if you want to practise law in another territory, you have to refer to the relevant admitting body in that specific area. Sometimes practising law in another state or territory can be a complicated process so make sure you fully understand the requirements before looking for work interstate.
The same rules apply for practising law in another country but the process may be much more difficult.
In New Zealand, you need to follow a two-step process. First, you must be admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the High Court. Then, you need to obtain a practising certificate by the New Zealand Law Society.
In the UK, you must receive a Certificate of Eligibility from the Law Society of England and Wales, which tells you which tests you must pass as well as whether or not you need any further training.
After obtaining the certificate you need to sit the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) that allows you to qualify as a solicitor. However, if you are not a partner, member, director, owner or part-owner of a law firm in the UK, you can actually practise law without registering but those laws can be sticky so make sure you are clear on what you can and cannot do if you don’t want to register.
If you want to practise in the US, you must pass the bar that is associated with the state you wish to practise in. However, most states require a JD degree in order to sit the bar. In some states, like California, you must get your degree approved by the American Bar Association before you can sit the bar. Sometimes, you may also need to complete a year of study at an approved law school before taking the bar. Each state has different rules so it’s important to know what the state you wish to practice in requires before moving.
Studying Law in New Zealand
Kiwis know their law!
Law Entry Requirements
Like Australia, different unis in New Zealand have different requirements and pathways to law.
At The University of Auckland, you need to get accepted to a non-law bachelor’s degree first. Once you are accepted into a separate degree, you’ll be admitted to Bachelor of Laws (LLB) part I.
Because of this, your entry requirements are based on the initial degree you apply for.
For example, if you want to do a bachelor’s degree in the arts, the uni recommends you take some mix of languages, classical studies, drama, economics, English, geography, history, history of arts, and mathematics.
Sorry for the overload of information, but basically, the only way to prepare for a law degree at The University of Auckland is by working out what other degree you’d like to study and exceeding the entry requirements for that degree.
The other universities all let you to study law right after high school. Woohoo!
In order to prepare for these universities you need at least three subjects at level 3, 10 credits at level 2, or above in literacy and 10 credits at level 1 or above in numeracy.
If you achieve at least a 140 or 150 for NCEA level 3, some unis will allow you to have to have the first pick of qualification and courses.
Undergraduate Law Degrees
Most New Zealand unis offer dual degrees in law and other subjects such as art or English. While many of these programs are longer, they are beneficial because you’ll likely need to complete a few non-law credits as well and having a dual degree allows you to get something out of your non-law credits.
Once you complete LLB I (which usually takes about a year), you’ll need to apply to LLB II, which is slightly more difficult and also varies from university to university.
Most LLB II programs have limited entry and depend on your grades in LLB I. Usually, you need about a cumulative B+/A- GPA to progress into LLB II.
Then, if you do well in LLB II some unis also require LLB III and LLB IV. There are also honours degrees at most unis.
Luckily, The University of Waikato doesn’t require special admission into LLB II or higher. As long as you pass your classes you are guaranteed to move on to the next level.
Tuition costs for LLB programs in NZ are as follows:
+ The University of Auckland: $4,602 USD a year for domestic students, $23,532 USD a year for international students
+ University of Canterbury: $4,602 USD for domestic students a year, $20,327 USD for international students a year
+ University of Otago: $4,602 USD a year for domestic students a, $20,748 USD a year for international students
+ Victoria University of Wellington: $4,581 USD a year for domestic students a, $22,587 USD a year for international students
+ Auckland University of Technology: $4,271-$4,594 USD a year for domestic students a, $22,274 USD a year for international students
+ The University of Waikato $4,602 USD a year for domestic students a, $20,327 USD a year for international students
Let’s keep going. You’re not a lawyer yet!
Professional Legal Studies Course (PLSC)
PLSC is New Zealand's answer to Australia's PLT.
There are two options:
- A course by the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS)
- A course by the College of Law New Zealand
IPLS offers three course options depending on your location and the amount of time the course takes:
- 13 week onsite/online: 9 weeks online, 4 weeks onsite
- 18 week onsite/online: 14 weeks online, 4 weeks onsite
- 13 week onsite (Auckland and Wellington only)
These courses teach you the practical skills you’ll need to succeed as a lawyer, such as writing and drafting, trial preparation, research skills, and more. The courses cost $3,752 USD for NZ residents and $4,427 USD for non-NZ residents.
The College of Law also offers three courses:
- Modular: 18 weeks total with a mixture of online and onsite. May shorten to 13 weeks depending on your schedule.
- 13 week full time: 13 weeks total, 9 weeks online, 4 weeks onsite.
- Extended onsite: 13 weeks total, 8 weeks online, 5 weeks onsite.
These courses also teach the practical skills you need but are slightly more expensive and have more flexible options, location wise. The courses cost $3,968 USD for NZ residents and $5,162 USD for non-NZ residents.
Hate to break it to you, but becoming a lawyer is super expensive but there are scholarships available for both courses if you’re a New Zealand citizen so don’t freak out just yet.
Once you complete a PLSC course, you need to get a certificate of completion from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education (NZCLE), be admitted to the bar, and get a current practising certificate from the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS).
After completing all of the above you officially become a lawyer!
Using Your NZ Law Degree Overseas
Keen on practising law in Australia after finishing your degree? Luckily, under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Regime, you can easily file and be admitted to work in all territories in Australia.
Is the UK more your cup of tea? You must obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Law Society of England and Wales and then sit the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) in order to become a solicitor.
More interested in the US? Check with the state you want to move to to see if you can take the bar exam. If so, you must get approved by the American Bar Association and then you can take the bar just like any other student.
Studying Law in the UK
If you’ve ever wanted to wear a wig, UK law is for you!
Law Entry Requirements
Surprise, surprise, law programs in the UK are extremely competitive.
You’ll need at least AAA or AAB to meet the minimum requirements for most unis. Some unis, such as Cambridge, have slightly higher A level (or equivalent) entry requirements so you must have at least one A*.
Although most unis don’t specific which A levels you should take, it’s always a good idea to take courses that teach you skills you’ll need for your degree, such as essay writing. Many students interested in law take history, english, maths and/or a foreign language. There are a few unis (hi, Oxford) that also require high grades in GCSE math to ensure that you're numerate, so make sure you can do maths.
You may also need to sit the National Admissions Test for Law, or LNAT, in order to get into some unis (hi again, Oxford).
Very strong A level (or equivalent) scores as well as high LNAT scores (if needed) will help you get into your dream law program… or at least help you land an interview!
Undergraduate Law Degrees
Before we discuss undergraduate law courses, let me be clear that you do not need to go to uni to become a lawyer!
I know what you’re thinking.
I don’t have to go to uni at all to become a lawyer?
You can opt to complete a legal apprenticeship instead, which allows you to work at a law firm #straightouttahighschool. This option has gained popularity in recent years and is a great option if you don’t want to go to uni or can't afford it.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back on track.
The most common undergraduate law degree is the Bachelor of Laws (LLB). It typically takes three years to complete an LLB but some programs include an extra year abroad (we meet again, Oxford). Additionally, if you choose to complete a combined degree, your program may be longer.
Oxford’s undergraduate law degree is called Jurisprudence but it’s basically equivalent to an LLB.
Some schools also offer a Bachelor of Arts or Science in Law, joint degrees such as business and law, or LLBs with a specific focus on one type of law such as American Law. That being said, the majority of law programs are LLBs.
Additionally, you have the option to study another major during your undergrad and then sit the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), a law conversion course, to help you get on track. The course condenses a three year law degree into one year. It’s intense but once you complete it you’ll be on the same playing field as all law students.
Legal Practice Course (LPC)/Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
If you want to be a solicitor (which basically means you’re a lawyer but you don’t go to court), you’ll need to complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC).
The LPC is comprised of five parts:
It typically takes around two years and costs $10,526-$20,918 USD. After finishing your LPC you’ll complete a training contract for another two years during which you’ll gain practical knowledge in an actual law firm.
If you secure a training contract prior to doing your LPC then your company will usually cover the costs of your LPC.
Once you complete your LPC and training contract you can officially call yourself a solicitor!
If you want to be a barrister and represent people in court, you must take the Bar Professional Training Course. The course is only one year long and costs around $19,434-$23,618 USD, depending on where you take the course.
After you complete your course, you need to embark on a pupilage, which is somewhat like a one-year apprenticeship.
Then you’ll finally be a barrister!
A quick note:
If you are a barrister and want to become a solicitor you can complete the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (QLTS). This exam consists of two parts and can help you quickly switch professions if you already are a qualified lawyer.
Using Your UK Law Degree Overseas
If you want to go work in Australia with your UK degree you’ll most likely need to do a PLT depending on the authorising body you apply to. If you are exempt from part of the PLT, you’ll need to complete…. wait for it…. a part PLT! This program allows you to complete some PLT subjects but not others.
Once you complete the PLT you get a practising certificate and can work as a lawyer in Australia.
Want to use your degree in New Zealand? Great! Get your degree assessed by the New Zealand Council of Legal Education. If the council approves you, you can apply for a practising certificate and work in New Zealand!
If you’re more into the US, figure out what state you want to work in and what the rules are in that state for international students sitting the bar. You’ll most likely need to get your degree approved by the American Bar Association, which could take up to a year. If approved, you can sit the bar just like any other student.
P.S. The UK makes it relatively simply to work in the country as a foreign trained lawyer.
Remember the QLTS?
Well, if you come from a recognised jurisdiction, including Australia, New Zealand and the US, the formula for becoming a lawyer in the UK is simple.
- Be a qualified lawyer in a recognised jurisdiction
- Get a certificate of eligibility from the Law Society of England and Wales
- Sit the QLTS
- Practise law in the UK
Because the process is relatively easy, many students choose to study law in the UK, sit the New York Bar exam in the US (which has an open door policy that allows any international student with a substantive law degree to take the exam), then take the QLTS and practise law in the US or UK with no training contract required.
This route is a great way to get worldly experience and somewhat speed up the process of becoming a lawyer.
Studying Law in the US
Like Suits, but in real life!
Law Entry Requirements
Unlike the other countries on this list, you cannot study law straight out of high school in the US.
That being said, there are major benefits to the US system.
Not least of which being a well-rounded education and a broader skill set.
Believe me, it’s worth it.
First, let’s look into what you can do in high school to prepare for a law career in the future (since you can’t get into a program right away).
In order to get into a top uni for your undergrad degree, you need to have great ACT/SAT scores, take four or more Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and have a strong extracurricular profile. So study hard in school and pursue your passions outside of school!
Another good way to get involved with law in high school is by joining (or starting) a debate or mock trial club.
Because there are no undergraduate law programs you must study something else for your bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it’s important to take courses and do extracurricular activities that’ll help you get into your dream university/major and not worry about law school too much until later.
Undergraduate Law Degrees
While there are no undergraduate law programs, some unis have “pre-law” majors and/or majors such as criminology and legal studies, but it’s not necessary to do any specific degree in order to get into law school.
Some common undergraduate majors for law students include:
- Government Service
However, you can really study anything you want as long as long as you do well.
The average tuition cost in the US is $33,215 a year but there are heaps of private scholarship opportunities available so don’t let the cost deter you.
It’s also important to continue pursuing extracurricular activities. Many unis have mock trial, debate and model UN (United Nations) clubs, which are all a great way to learn relevant law skills. That being said, whether you dance, play an instrument, or even help the homeless, as long as you’re passionate and consistent, it doesn’t matter what extracurricular activitiesyou participate in.
US law schools look for well-rounded students with high GPAs and high LSAT (Law School Admission Test) scores so your unique activities may help you get in!
You should start preparing for the LSAT in your junior year of college and take the exam in your senior year of college.
Once you take the LSAT, your long awaited journey to law school begins.
Going to Law School in the US
A basic law degree is called a Juris Doctor (JD). It takes three years to complete, after which you must take the bar exam in order to become an actual lawyer… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.
Your JD covers both the basics of law such as constitutional law, property law, legal writing, contracts and torts, and more specialised law topics depending on your interests.
The average tuition at a top 10 law school in the US is $60,293 a year but there are also many scholarships available for students.
While in law school it’s common to enroll in summer internships/clerkships at law firms or government offices.
These internships are usually paid and teach you the practical skills you’ll need to become a great lawyer. However, they are very competitive so you must be at the top of your class in order to get offers to the top internships. Sometimes, these summer gigs can lead to a full time job after graduation.
As I mentioned before, once you graduate you’ll need to sit the bar exam. Each state has its own exam so it’s important to sit the bar in the state you wish to work in. The bar usually consists of an ethics exam and separate written exam.
If you ever want to move to another state, you’ll need to sit that state’s bar exam as well.
Aside from the JD degree, the US also has a variety of postgrad degrees that you can complete to expand on your law education after you complete your JD, including:
1. Master of Laws (LLM): A degree to enhance your JD or, if you're an international student, a degree to help you adjust to the US legal system. Typically takes one year, and costs vary dramatically based on the uni.
2. Doctor of Juridical Science: If you want to teach law, this three-year degree is for you. Costs vary dramatically based on the uni.
3. Master of Studies in Law: This is the only postgrad degree that doesn’t require a JD. If you aren’t a lawyer but want to learn a bit about law in a one-year “crash course”, this degree is the way to go.
Since law in the US is already a postgraduate degree, most students don’t get an additional degree unless they want to teach law or truly expand their knowledge.
Using Your US Law Degree Overseas
Let’s take a look at a few common options for students wishing to study in the US.
One option is to do an undergraduate degree in your home country and then go to the US for postgraduate law. This option works well if you want to ultimately practise law in the US. If so, the first thing you need to consider is whether or not the US will accept your undergraduate degree. Every uni has different requirements so check with your desired schools to see if they’ll accept your diploma.
Once your diploma is approved, you need to sit the LSAT (and sometimes the TOEFL), apply to law schools, and obtain a visa.
If you’re already a qualified lawyer, your best option is either an LLM or a doctorate. The LLM will introduce you to the American law system and help you pass the bar in some states, while the doctorate will help you teach law.
If you didn’t study law, you can apply for a JD program and get the full American law school experience!
Keep in mind that most states require a JD to sit the bar but there are a few states like New York that make it very easy for international students to take the bar.
Another pathway available to you is to get a bachelor’s degree in the US and then go back to your home country and get a postgraduate degree in law.
The US undergraduate liberal arts education gives you a broader skill set and more knowledge outside of law, which will ultimately make you a better lawyer.
This is because you need to be able to understand your clients’ point of view and figure out how the opposing side thinks. While a law degree in your home country may offer classes dedicated to these skills, a liberal arts experience allows you to live and breathe different ideologies and ways of thinking. This gives you an edge on any student who simply studied law in your home country directly after high school.
Not only that, but going to the US for your undergrad gives you way more options. For example, you could study engineering in the US, play football, compete on a mock trial team, and expand your network all before ever learning about contracts and torts.
Once you finish your bachelor’s degree, you can go back to your home country and become a lawyer there (if you want to leave!).
If you want to do a law degree in Australia after getting an undergrad in the US, your best bet is a JD, which takes three years to complete.
If you want to study in New Zealand after you get your undergrad in the US, an LLM is the way to go.
Last but not least, the easiest country to go to after completing your undergrad in the US is the UK thanks to their conversion course, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). As I mentioned previously, the GDL allows you to go to the UK and take a year-long crash course in law.
Regardless of which route you choose, studying in the US at some point will make you a lot more appealing to future employers and may land you a better job.
Phew! That was a lot of info.
You must feel a lot smarter now, locked and loaded with the keys to crushing the law school game.
Just remember, the most well known option isn’t always the best!
Don’t be afraid to venture out of your country and study law somewhere else.
You can always come home after!