How to qualify as a lawyer in New South Wales, Australia

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Introduction

The Legal Framework


New South Wales (NSW) is Australia’s most populous state.  As a federation, Australia is comprised of 6 states and 3 self-governing territories, each with their own constitution, parliament, government, courts and laws.  Australian law derives from:

  • Federal laws enacted by the Australian Parliament that apply to the whole country;
  • State laws which are merely influential on other states and not binding; and
  • Common law, the body of legal precedent.  Each state has its own hierarchy of courts culminating in the Supreme Court.  The Australian High Court is the court of final appeal and its decisions are binding on all Australian courts.


Types of Legal Practitioners


In NSW there are two types of legal practitioners, solicitors and barristers.  Barristers specialise in court work and are usually briefed by solicitors.  In NSW, in order to be a barrister, further training is required in addition to the education required to be a solicitor. 


Requirements to become a solicitor


In order to become a solicitor in NSW an applicant needs to meet the eligibility requirements in sections 24 and 25 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW).  This requires the applicant to:

  1. be over 18 years of age;
  2. have attained ‘approved’ or ‘corresponding’ academic qualifications; and
  3. have satisfactorily completed ‘approved’ or ‘corresponding’ Practical Legal Training requirements.

The applicant must also be a ‘fit and proper person’, which generally means that they must be of good character and provide character references to this effect.  Section 9 of the Legal Profession Act provides more information on this.


Admission is administered by the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB).  Once admitted, the solicitor may than apply for a practicing certificate.

Education

Academic qualifications


Generally the first step to becoming a NSW solicitor is attaining ‘approved academic qualifications’ or ‘corresponding academic qualifications’. 
The approved academic qualifications are usually:

  1. a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree at an accredited university law school or equivalent; or
  2. a Diploma of Law course prescribed by the LPAB.

The Diploma of Law is provided by the Law Extension Law Committee of the University of Sydney and offered through evening and weekend classes. 


In contrast, the LLB is usually undertaken as a combined degree at an undergraduate level or as a 3-year individual postgraduate degree.  The following law schools have been accredited by the LPAB:

• Macquarie University • University of Notre Dame 
• Southern Cross University • University of Sydney
• University of New England • University of Technology 
• University of New South Wales • University of Western Sydney 
• University of Newcastle • University of Wollongong


They generally require a successful pass in the following subjects:

• Torts • Administrative Law
• Contracts • The Legal Profession
• Civil and Criminal Procedure • Real Property
• Criminal Law • Equity
• Public International Law • Evidence
• Public Law • Corporations Law
• Federal Constitutional Law • Private International Law

 

‘Corresponding academic qualifications’ refers to qualifications that would qualify the applicant for admission in another jurisdiction.  However, the LPAB must be satisfied that the minimum criteria to approve the qualifications for admission are substantially the same as those in NSW.


Practical Legal Training


The next requirement is Practical Legal Training.   While academic legal studies focus on theoretical knowledge, PLT focuses on teaching students a broad range of tasks and procedures, such as:
 

• Legal research • Interviewing and oral communication
• Fact and legal analysis • Advising
• Problem solving • Advocacy
• Legal writing and drafting • Dispute resolution

 

The main provider of PLT in NSW is the College of Law.  This offers a professional program that comprises of 3 components:

1. Coursework Component:

15 weeks of full-time or 30 weeks of part-time study, offered via Distance Online or On-campus courses.

2. Work Experience Component:

Consists of 75 working days and may be completed full-time or part-time (at least two days a week).

3. Continuing Professional Education Component:

Consists of two self-assessable parts being a Workbook and seminars (accessible online).

 

Other institutions that offer a PLT course are:

• University of Newcastle • University of Western Sydney
• University of Technology  • University of Wollongong

 

Admission

 

Once the applicant has met the eligibility and suitability requirements for admission, the final steps before being eligible to practice as a solicitor are:

  1. Admission to the Supreme Court of NSW (unless already admitted in another jurisdiction within Australia); and
  2. A Practising Certificate from the Law Society of New South Wales

Admission is a one-time only application.  Once the application is approved, the applicant will need to attend the Supreme Court of NSW to:

  1. Take and sign the Oath
  2. Sign the Roll of Australian Lawyers and
  3. Receive an original Certificate of Admission.

The Practising Certificate needs to be renewed annually and solicitors are required to meet annual continuing legal education requirements.
 

Requalification and international students and practitioners

Interstate practitioners


Interstate Australian practitioners, who hold a current Practising Certificate from another Australian jurisdiction, may practise in NSW without gaining admission to the Supreme Court of NSW provided that their principal place of practice remains their home jurisdiction.
If the practitioner intends to principally practise in NSW, they will need to surrender the Practising Certificate from their home jurisdiction in order to be granted a NSW Practising Certificate.


New Zealand practitioners


New Zealand practitioners benefit from the Trans Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1996.  This allows them to apply direct to the Supreme Court of NSW for admission.  They can then apply for a NSW Practising Certificate with the Law Society and may commence practice in NSW.


Overseas applicants (other than New Zealand applicants)


Other overseas applicants need to apply directly to the LPAB.  The LPAB will assess the individual’s qualifications against the NSW requirements for admission.  In some cases, the applicant may need to undertake further study or PLT.   Generally, to be admitted to legal practice in NSW on the basis of qualifications obtained overseas, the applicant must have:

  1. Completed a tertiary law course which is substantially equivalent to a 3-year full-time Australian law course; and
  2. Successfully completed subjects (as part of that course or otherwise) which are substantially equivalent to mandatory areas of study in Australia; and
  3. Acquired and demonstrated an appropriate understanding of and competence in certain skills, practice areas and values, which are substantially equivalent to those required in Australia; and 
  4. Demonstrated English proficiency by undertaking or being exempted from, the International English Language Testing System Academic Module (IELTS) test within 2-years before seeking admission, and obtained minimum scores of 8.0 for writing, 7.5 for speaking and 7.0 for reading and listening.

 

Useful Links

For further information, please see the websites below:

The Law Society of New South Wales: Practicing Law in New South Wales:

http://www.lawsociety.com.au/ForSolictors/practisinglawinnsw/index.htm

Legal Profession Admission Board of New South Wales:
http://www.lpab.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lpab/legalprofession_index.html

The New South Wales Bar Association: Practising as a barrister in NSW:
http://www.nswbar.asn.au/docs/professional/practice_nsw/practice_index.php

NSW Government: Lawlink (Justice & Attorney General), Student Resources:
http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/lawlink_libraries/ll_libraries.nsf/pages/LL_Students_centre_legal_system
 

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Written by Elizabeth Murphy

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