In 2017, a member suggested that WLAQ develop a range of in-practice queries, being a central resource of questions that members may have across the course of their careers.  Thank you to Melanie Hindman QC for her assistance with getting the project started, and to the FY2018/2019 Committee for compiling this information.

This information is general in nature and is not representative of any one person, or organisation, including WLAQ.  Please ensure that you review all career information available to you and form an independent opinion before deciding what you want to do.

Clerkships and Graduate positions

So, what are you doing next year?

This question is often the bane of a final year law student’s existence and may be yours (especially after being asked by family members, friends, colleagues and potentially the barista at your local coffee joint).  It’s an exciting and daunting time in your life so, of course, everyone wants to know how you are tracking to take that big leap into lawyer-dom. It is at this point that your future starts to come into sharper focus and the pressure to make the ‘right’ decision about your post-graduation career starts to intensify.  While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to securing a graduate lawyer position, there is a path well followed by many firms and is applied in line with Queensland Law Society requirements.

What is a ‘clerkship’?

A clerkship is, generally, paid work experience that you may choose to complete in your penultimate year of study (you can apply in other years, however your penultimate year is the preferred year for law firms).  Offered in both Winter and Summer university holidays (which is why they are often called vacation clerkships), a clerkship is usually a four week program that would see you work with various practice groups within a firm.  There are usually two rounds for Summer clerkships; December and January. Undertaking a clerkship has two major benefits – first, you will be able to experience a firm’s culture firsthand before making a decision regarding your graduate employment and the areas of law you may be interested in.  Secondly, while it is a myth that all students who undertake a clerkship are offered a graduate position, it is not a myth that you are ‘higher up the list’ than those who never competed a clerkship at any firms. The Queensland Law Society publishes a set list of dates that all law firms follow for receiving clerkship applications, interviews and offers.  The QLS Careers Expo (generally held in March of each year) is the perfect opportunity to scout firms, find out what type of law they practice in and participate in helpful workshops, including resume and cover letter writing. There are no restrictions on the number of law firms that you apply to, however if you intend to undertake more than one clerkship in Summer, make sure you clarify which group you will be part of. You may receive more than one offer for a clerkship.  Make sure you decide this yourself – do not be swayed by what friends are doing.  And, the Golden Rule – communicate your acceptance or rejection before the due date and in writing.

What is a ‘graduate position’?

A graduate position is your first post-graduation role.  It used to be called (in a different iteration) an Articled Clerkship.  Most graduate positions are two years, where you complete six month to one year rotations in various practice groups while completing your Practical Legal Training (PLT). What is it like to work and study as a grad?  Well, yes, you can take leave while you are a graduate, just make sure you plan and ask for it in advance.  Remember: most graduate salaries are fixed while you are a grad.  You are able to access study leave for PLT and to take your exams – make sure you read your firm’s policy on this.  Top tier firms generally have the College of Law attend to give the courses and run the exams. Rotation discussions can take some time – there are coffees with the Senior Associates to find out if you want to rotate in, chats with other grads to find out where they are looking to go, meeting with the Partner and then the final decision you make and give to Talent.  You will hear stories about grads missing out on their top preference, and others who have received their top preferences each time, and there is always the story of a grad who received their 15th preference and next time received their top one.  If you talk to Talent about the process, they can tell you about the discussions they have with Partners, working out which practice groups require more grads (think: royal commissions, litigation and discovery needs), and will very much assure you that they do not place based on their personal preferences (read: their friends or favourites).  It is always about meeting the needs of their clients and making sure business needs are also met. The social aspects of being a grad are fantastic.  Your ‘grad group’ will be with you throughout your whole career, even if you change firms.  There are still Partners now who talk about who they did Articles with.  Make sure you use this time to build friendships and relationships within the firm.  Don’t be that grad who becomes known as the excessive drinker at the first few functions – the two drink rule is always a good start! What happens after you finish your grad program?  Well, all going well, you will be offered a permanent position in the group of your choice.  If your group of choice has capacity and does not have room for you, it is quite common for a grad to do an extra rotation – don’t see this as a negative and to those not in that position – do not look down on your fellow grad if they are doing an extra rotation.

What is involved in the recruitment process?

The clerkship and graduate recruitment process varies from firm to firm. However, the following is a common structure:
  1. Application – Most firms have an online application process for their graduate and clerkship programs. This may include, but is not limited to, inputting your personal details, completing a short question and answer section and then uploading your cover letter, resume and academic transcript. Your cover letter should not be a repeat of your resume – they can turn the page to see that information.  Your cover letter is what will make you stand out from the others so make it good!
  2. Aptitude Assessment – Primarily conducted online, aptitude assessments involve standardised cognitive, cultural and situational testing to determine if a candidate is the right ‘fit’ for a particular firm.
  3. Interview – If you make it through the preliminary stages of recruitment, you will be asked to have a face-to-face interview. The interviewing panel may consist of HR representatives and a Partner.  While many interview questions will directly relate to your study and work experience in the law, many interviewers also want to gauge who you are as a person not just as a lawyer.  A second interview is common and is usually held between you and senior lawyers.  This interview is generally more focused on the firm and what you want to know about it.
  4. Offer – Should you be successful in your application, the firm may call you with a verbal offer followed by a written offer of employment.  It is common practice that you will then have 24 hours to either accept or decline this offer.  Again – make it based on your preference – not your parents, friends or because you ‘feel bad’ saying no to a particular Talent representative; this is your career!
You are able to check the critical dates for clerkship and graduate recruitment on the Careers page of each firm’s website. Many mid- and top tier firms also subscribe to the QLS Legal Graduate Employment and Vacation Clerkship Guidelines which contains further information about this process.

I never completed a clerkship, does this mean I will not obtain a graduate position?

It is not a definite no, but you may be on the back foot compared to those who have completed a clerkship.  Some firms may not offer a clerkship program and others may have an excess of graduate positions in comparison to their number of clerks and will be looking to hire a grad from outside of the clerkship pool.  It is imperative that you keep abreast of what different firms are offering in terms of graduate programs. Also, you are not prevented from applying for a grad position if you have not completed a clerkship and you should be prepared to address this in your cover letter – close it off honestly and succinctly.

I did not obtain a graduate position, does this mean I will not be admitted as a lawyer?

In simple terms – of course not!  If you miss out on a graduate position, you are still able to undertake your PLT and apply for admission on completion of your training. As a part of your PLT, you will be required to undertake work experience in the legal field.  Common work experience placements include work with community legal centres, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  Many private firms also take on PLT students which has the potential to lead to future employment. If you are taking this option, and the organisation you are undertaking experience with does not offer paid positions, that is ok – it is work experience.  However, you need to be mindful if they want to keep you on in an unpaid position after your experience hours are up.

How do I prepare all of my admission documents?

For those in firms, you will likely have someone assist you with all of the timing, the dates, the advertising and the collation of material.  The QLS also publishes dates and the LSC is the first place you should go to for any clarification needed. Make sure you are prepared well in advance and think about what information your mover needs, for example, the language they are to read out when moving your admission.

Who do I ask to move my admission?

Back ‘in the day’, it used to be that a graduate would ask their supervising Partner, or one of the Partners in the groups that they had rotated through or a family member, if they were part of the profession, to move their admission.  This was seen as a mark of respect and for years grads would talk about who moved their admission (also, the seniority of the person moving your admission determines the order of you being admitted, ie higher up the solicitor’s roll, whereas your marks determine the order in which you sit with your admission group).  These days, many grads are having their friends move their admission.  Either option is fine, however it would be good to have a conversation with your supervisor to let them know if you do choose to have a friend instead of them move your admission.

Do I need to buy my mover a gift?

This is not an absolute requirement, but it is always a nice gesture along with inviting them to any lunch or dinner that you are hosting that day.

Do I go back to work on my admission day?

This is up to your place of employment.  A number of firms give you the day off to celebrate and enjoy it with family and friends.  Firms may also hold a graduate admission event to welcome you to the firm a few days later.

Helpful hints

  1. Do your research
Law firms will receive hundreds of applications for their clerkship and graduate programs.  One way to help your application stand out from the crowd is to demonstrate that you have done your research and know what their firm is all about. You may choose to reference a recent case that they have been working on or maybe they have a unique pro-bono program that really interests you – whatever it is, make sure you make it abundantly clear in your application that this is a firm that you want to work for.  Also – do not address the letter to Dear Sirs.  Research who you are actually writing to and address the letter accordingly.
  1. Diversify your interests 
This is no longer just a catch-cry of investment bankers.  Law firms want to employ well-rounded candidates that are able to demonstrate their skills and abilities in various fields.  From volunteering for the Red Cross to competing in a team sport on the weekend, these experiences help shape who you are as a person and, in turn, are a great way to demonstrate your values, strengths and work ethic to a future employer.  So, get involved and build an exceptional resume – it is not just about having a 7.0!
  1. Get networking
Law is a notoriously small world. An acquaintance at a networking event may become an indispensable contact once you start applying for clerkships and graduate positions.  It is important to seek out and then foster these relationships to grow your professional network.  If you have a contact at a particular firm, you could mention them by name in your cover letter and why they have inspired you to work at that firm.  If you are looking for an opportunity to meet engaged female members of the legal profession, WLAQ hosts multiple networking events across the year and student members have access to discounted event tickets.

Judges Associate

When should I be applying for a Judges Associateship?

In terms of your career there is no exact ‘right time’ to apply for an Associateship, although it is most common for candidates to apply for a position commencing in the year following university finalisation, or at the conclusion of their Graduate rotations at a firm.

For the Supreme and District Courts of Queensland information will be available in December of each year for associateships commencing two years later (for example, released in December 2019 for 2021 Associateships). Information will be found on the Courts website.

There are no ‘closing dates’ for High Court associateships, however the Justices may have appointed their Associates for the next two to three years at any time.  Further information can be found at on the High Court website.

I have taken a grad position at a firm, will this mean that I have to give that up if I accept an Associateship?

You should check with the firm that you have accepted your position with.  Many firms will allow you to place your Graduate position on hold while you complete your Associateship, or for you to complete a portion of your grad program, complete your Associateship and return to finalise your grad program.  You should make sure you speak to your firm about this, and prior to accepting the Associateship, because they may reduce your grad program requirements and you may even be admitted earlier than your peers in your grad program.

What should I expect as a JA?

As a Judges associate you should expect to be involved in:

  • legal research;
  • proofing judgments;
  • arranging circuits to rural centres;
  • ensuring that court proceedings run smoothly by familiarising yourself with files and liaising with registry staff and the parties; and
  • arraigning defendants, empanelling juries and taking verdicts in criminal trials.

You should also expect to perform some administrative work.   It’s part of the job, but this shouldn’t be seen as a drawback, rather expanding your skillset so that when you start in practice you already know how to set your calendar and bring-ups, and how to manage competing appointments.

Depending on who you work for, you may also be invited to attend events with your Judge and this can present great opportunities to meet members of the profession and the bench.

How do I manage going away on circuit and maintaining a balance in life?

Going on circuit is definitely a factor to consider when applying for a Judges Associateship.  However, the experience gained on circuit is well worth being away from home for a few weeks over the course of a year.

Depending on which court you’re in (District Court Judges tend to go on circuit far more often than Judges of the Supreme Court), the amount of time spent on circuit in a year can be between 0 and 12 weeks.

If circuit weeks are back-to-back, some Judges opt to return home on weekends and this helps in maintaining a work-life balance.  Ultimately, circuits are one of the best parts of the job because you get to see how regional Courts operate, meet various members of the profession and bond with your Judge.

What is the best thing about being a JA?

By far the best bit of being a JA is building personal and professional relationships with not only your Judge, but also with the other associates and their Judges.  As a JA, you are also given a unique opportunity to witness first-hand how our Courts operate, watch some of the best advocates present in Court and learn from their experiences.

PLT and Admission

Who pays for my PLT?

There are several different options for paying your PLT.  First, if you are working in a law firm it is general practice for your employer to pay the costs of your PLT (however it is not a ‘given’ to have it paid).  Employers often require a commitment to stay in their employ for a certain period of time following payment of your PLT, such is the case if they pay for a Masters degree and may require a prorata repayment if you leave before the time period has elapsed.  It is important to review any internal policies and procedures at your firm to determine what you are entitled to, and if you are required to make a commitment to the firm in return.  If you work for a boutique firm, or there are no relevant internal policies available on this issue, speak to your employer about options for payment of your PLT in advance.  In the times of articled clerks, it was common practice (but no written rule) that if they invest in you for two years, you owe them another two on top of that as a matter of courtesy.  These days, the time period is now captured through employment policies and your contract.

If you are not employed in the legal profession or if your firm or organisation says no (for example a Community Legal Centre may not have the funds to contribute), you will have to cover the cost of your PLT yourself.  You may be eligible for a FEE-HELP loan via the Australian government. FEE-HELP is a loan scheme that assists eligible student pay all or part of their tuition fees but it does not cover study costs such as textbooks. Loans are only available to Australian citizens or students who hold a permanent humanitarian visa. You can learn more about FEE-HELP online.  

I am in the regions, does that mean my PLT will not be the same as Brisbane students?

Not at all!  Many institutions that offer PLT training also offer flexible delivery with an ability to participate externally, including through The College of Law Queensland.  You may be required to attend on campus for a short period of time during your course but otherwise can complete your studies online and via video link.  Make sure that when you are applying for entry into a course, that you have selected your units via external or online delivery.  The practical aspect of your PLT will no doubt be different to that of Brisbane students as you would be undertaking your practical training at a Regional firm which may have different processes and resources to that of a City firm.

I need to complete work experience in order to achieve my hours, should I be paid?

Work experience is a core component of your PLT, where you will obtain an insight into a real legal environment and have an opportunity to apply your skills to real-life legal problems.  Your work experience for PLT purposes may not be paid (if you are not currently employed and undertaking a graduate program) and your law firm will let you know of the position prior to having you sign a contract.  What you need to be mindful of is if you continue to undertake unpaid work following the completion of your PLT hours.  The Fair Work Ombudsman states that unpaid work can include work experience, vocational placements and internships.  However, it is up to you and your prospective employer to ensure that your position is compliant with the Fair Work Act (particularly for continuing work).  Some individuals are in the position where they are paid for their work experience because they are part of a graduate program, or have negotiated that with their workplace (including for secretaries or paralegals who are also law students).  It is important to find out what is available, and try to negotiate pay where possible.  Remember, work experience does not have to be gained via the traditional route of private practice. Subject to the guidelines of your university, work experience can be offered by barristers, government bodies, judges, tribunal members or Community Legal Centres. 

I am ready to be admitted, could I ask my friend who is on a Supervised Practising Certificate to move my admission?

Yes. Under section 6(d) of the Legal Profession Regulation, the following lawyers can be a ‘mover’:

  • where the lawyer holds a current practicing certificate (restricted or non-restricted); OR
  • where the lawyer is employed by the government (being a government legal officer) in circumstances where the Board has recommended the applicant’s admission without conditions, i.e. has issued a ‘clear’ certificate of recommendation. 

If the mover does not fall into one of the two above categories, they cannot move your admission.  Remember that movers will be placed in line of seniority on the day, so having a more senior mover will ensure you are moved sooner at your ceremony. 

Before deciding on your mover, consider who has contributed most to your legal ‘upbringing’, particularly in terms of senior lawyers and Partners.  Having a friend move your admission only became a ‘thing’ in the past five years, and prior to this, it was always seen as a mark of respect to ask your supervisor (Partner or Senior Associate) to move your admission.  You will always have a special bond with your mover so think about who you would like to have the role before making a decision.

Do I need to wear a suit to my admission ceremony?

The ceremony (in Brisbane) is held in the Banco Court and generally in the Supreme Court in the regions.  There is a requirement for solicitors and barristers (when not robed) to wear a jacket in Court, or they will not be heard unless leave is sought and granted.  You should wear a suit when being admitted and ensure that it is suitable (for example the length of your skirt).

Do I need to find a mentor straight away?

There is no requirement to find a mentor straight after admission and the best mentoring relationships are achieved organically.  Your firm may have internal mentoring arrangements in place that will mean you are paired up with a more senior practitioner in a mentoring arrangement (often referred to as a Buddy). 

If your firm does not have these arrangements in place, it is extremely helpful to have a mentor to help guide you through the first years of practice as you never know when you might need someone to lean on for advice! We would encourage junior members to get involved with WLAQ’s Ladder Program. The purpose of the program is to support and nurture women in the early stages of their legal careers. You will be paired with a mentor, who as a  senior member of the profession can offer invaluable support (and help you develop your professional contacts). You can read more about the program online.

How do I build relationships in the firm?

Because you spend so much time at work, it is important to build collegiate relationships.  Many of the people you work with as junior practitioners, you may work with again as you progress in your careers.  In order to build relationships within your firm, get involved!  Your firm may have internal committees (such as a social committee) that you can volunteer for, which are a great way to meet practitioners outside your area of expertise.  It is also a good idea to attend internal events where you can, as these are a great networking opportunity.  Do not put too much pressure on yourself to be a social butterfly, as first and foremost you are there to how to learn how to be a lawyer.  The main thing is to ensure you are achieving what you need to achieve for work, while also being mindful of building great relationships and being a team player.  

My firm wants to send me on a secondment, I am still a junior, is this a bad thing?

Secondments are never a bad thing (and ignore what you may hear otherwise).  In private practice, secondment is an excellent opportunity to better get to know a client that you are providing services for.  If your Partner is looking to send you on secondment as a representative of your firm, this is a good thing.  If you are government based, a secondment is a great opportunity to explore other departments and areas that you may not have otherwise been exposed to, and is also a good opportunity to network. 

In order to make sure your secondment is beneficial to all, regularly check in with your Partner to provide updates.  Also look to build relationships at the client’s office so that when you finish your secondment you are front of their mind to instruct (and you have the added benefit of knowing how the client operates).  When you return from secondment be sure to share your learnings with the Partner so that the team can look to better service the client to the standards they require.

Associate & Senior Associate

What is the difference between an Associate (or Senior Lawyer) and a Senior Associate?

An Associate is the title generally awarded to lawyers with at least 3 – 5 years PAE. This role is not used in all firms and is a recognition of a ‘mid-level’ lawyer in your chosen field.  Appointment to Senior Associate recognises a lawyer’s legal expertise, leadership qualities, seniority and opportunities for growth (both individual professional growth and growth of the business).  Both roles require the lawyer to comply with the relevant KPIs and behavioural expectations of the firm.  Typically Senior Associates appointed will have between 5 – 10 years PAE.   A Senior Associate will usually be responsible for supervising and delegating work to an Associate and junior lawyers.  

What is a business case?

A business case is a justification for a proposed promotion, project or undertaking on the basis of its expected commercial benefit.  It captures the reasoning and justification for initiating the promotion, project or task and seeking approval (or providing an explanation) for same. 

A business case in the sense of a promotion within a law firm is the commercial reasoning and/or justification as to why you should be promoted at the time you are seeking to be promoted (eg the needs of the business require you to be promoted because…).  When you move to a Senior Associate position you will be expected to produce a business case.  The lawyers who are best at building their own practice and bring in their own clients have a business case from early on in their careers.

Why is Senior Associate ‘such a big deal’?

Appointment to Senior Associate recognises your legal expertise in your chosen field, personal leadership qualities, ability to meaningfully mentor, support and supervise junior lawyers, ability to delegate to other members of the team, your relationship and growth capacity and ability to build and maintain strong relationships with clients.  

Senior Associate appointments are general considered as a potential pathway to Partnership and is an acknowledgment of expertise in your chosen field and firm.  In most firms, appointment to a Senior Associate is not provided simply by virtue of your PAE years, but rather requires a nomination and approval process.  This may include a nomination by your Supervising Partner, a detailed application process, interview by a number of Partners (outside of your direct Supervising Partner) and approval by the broader firm Partners.

When should I start working out what is ‘my practice’?

You should start working out what you want your practice area, and area of expertise to be at an early stage (we suggest by the 2-3 year PAE mark).   Useful questions to ask include ‘where do I see myself in 5, 10 and 15 years’. What are my strengths and weaknesses?  Having an understanding of your interests, goals, strengths and weaknesses will assist you in realising your practice area.  Additionally, discussion with senior lawyers and mentors (inside and outside of your firm) is also useful in this journey.  Having a clear business plan will assist you in terms of promotion and finding your fit within your firm.

How do I balance business development and billable hours?

A simple answer is that it is impossible to have a balance and many marketing theorists say that the best time to market is when you don’t actually need to (that is, when you are already busy!).  The more senior you become in private practice, the greater the opportunity and expectation that you will develop your own personal relationships with key clients and prospective business opportunities, with a view to generating your own work and supporting a team to delegate to.  

Balancing the business development goals and billable hour targets can be challenging, but integral to the role of Senior Associate is your ability to effectively and efficiently manage your time in these areas.

Some tips to balancing business development and billable hours include:

  • properly time record all billable and non-billable hours, including business development.  This will allow you to keep track of all of the time and initiatives you have worked on for business development;
  • carve out time in your day/week to dedicate to business development initiatives;
  • schedule one client business development catch up per month, with a new or different existing client;
  • consider creating a client seminar which can be delivered to multiple clients to maximise time efficiencies and client engagement and exposure;
  • if your firm has a business/client development resource, link in with him/her to discuss business development opportunities and strategies for the future;
  • business development does not have to be onerous.  Some effective business development strategies to add value to clients can be done by actively sharing new insights and knowledge with the client.  This can be as simple as emailing a client (or prospective client) a recent decision about a matter that is of interest to their business, or sharing other relevant industry information, on an informal basis;
  • actively engage with colleagues across various business units and offices within your firm to ensure the persons with the best expertise are available to provide the best solutions for the client and generate new business opportunities (including those outside of your practice area);
  • leverage your relationships within your law firm to create opportunities for others to make new connections with key stakeholders and clients.

 I have been Senior Associate for over 5 years, does this mean I will never make Partner?

No.  Times have changed over the last 20 years when it was more common for Partners to be appointed at an earlier stage of their careers.  Firms, prior to appointing you as a Senior Associate want to know that you can be part of the business and ensure you are supported and not ‘set up to fail’.  This includes making sure you are able to undertake BD, as not all lawyers will ‘inherit’ a practice from their Partner.   

If Partnership is what you are seeking, we suggest you be aware of the KPI and performance requirements for appointment to Partner, engage at an early stage with your Supervising Partner about promotion prospects and your intentions, including to Partnership, and obtain feedback (from your supervising Partner and/or other Partners and/or professional mentors) on any recommended next steps to assist you to achieve your goal. 

Should I be negotiating my salary or just accepting what I am given?

The best time for negotiating your salary is before you accept the job offer, and also at your annual review.  Another opportunity is following your annual review when you are advised of your payrise.  If you are being promoted from Associate to Senior Associate, prior to negotiating your salary (or initiating a discussion about salary) with HR or your supervising Partner we encourage you to do your research, know what the industry is paying, understand the market range for a Senior Associate in the type of firm you work in (eg small, mid-tier or top-tier) and be prepared to engage in a discussion about salary.  There are a number of legal salary guides that are released on a yearly basis that may be useful as a guide.  As they say in litigation “if you have the evidence, your submission is more likely to be accepted”.

Additionally, as an alternative to asking for more money, you might wish to consider negotiating other benefits at the time of your promotion including a flexible work arrangement, additional leave, the payment or reimbursement of study fees or an allowance for further education, professional membership to an industry body or an opportunity for a bonus at the end of the financial year.

Are secondments for Senior Associates normal or are they for juniors only?

Clients are becoming more and more sophisticated and there is an increasing trend for more senior lawyers to be relied upon by clients for secondment opportunities.  It is not uncommon for Senior Associates to be seconded to key clients’ in-house legal teams to cover a client being on a period of leave, to assist with a significant transaction/matter or to refine specific expertise and strengthen client relationships. 

It will depend on the work required as to whether a senior or junior lawyer is the most appropriate person for the secondment.  A number of factors will determine who would be most appropriate to go on secondment, including the nature and type of work to be completed, period of secondment, workload, cost and commercial considerations by the client and resource availability within your firm etc.  For example, if the secondment involves discovery or data review, it might be more appropriate and cost effective (both for the firm and the client) for a junior lawyer to be on secondment for this task.  However, if the client is looking for a secondee to work in their in-house legal team to handle all the general legal matters that arise in the course of their companies’ activities or provide strategic direction, supervision and oversight to a specific project, a Senior Associate may be most suited for the role.  

Special Counsel

What is the Special Counsel?

The role of a Special Counsel is a unique position in law and describes someone who has specialised expertise in an area of law.  They are the ‘go to’ person.  Lawyers Weekly in their awards describe the position “Special counsel are in the prime of their careers, set apart by their exceptional achievements.”. The Legal Practitioners Board of Western Australia obtained advice as to whether or not the term ‘special counsel’ was a form of misleading and deceptive conduct.  The advice can be found online.  The advice does not provide a final conclusion, however we share it as it describes the level of expertise that one would expect a Special Counsel to hold.

Is Special Counsel different to a Partner?

Yes.  Generally speaking, Special Counsel do not have the same BD (business development) requirements attached to them that a Partner does.  They are seen as a leader within a firm and also within their field, but do not have the responsibilities and risk that comes with Partnership.

If I am a Special Counsel does that mean I will not make Partner?

This depends on your firm.  About five years ago, some top tier firms moved away from the traditional role of Special Counsel and moved it to the Partnership path.  However, there have been reports that a number of these firms have gone back to the traditional Special Counsel position, where that is seen as an alternative path to Partnership, perhaps for someone who does not want to have the added pressure of BD or the increased risk (and admin work!) that comes with being a Partner. The answer is entirely based on your firm’s structure and we encourage you to have a discussion with your Partner or Talent team.

Are Special Counsel barristers, or are they expected to have strong advocacy skills?

No.  We do not know the origins of the use of “counsel” with Special Counsel, but they are employed solicitors of a firm and are not to be confused with members of the Bar who are titled Junior Counsel, Queens Counsel or in some states Senior Counsel. The position of whether or not a Special Counsel has strong advocacy skills will depend on their area of law.

Do Special Counsel earn as much as Partners?

Likely no given that they will not receive a dividend that would be due to Partners.  However, all employment contracts are different and Special Counsel may, in addition to their salary, receive a percentage of their billed fees (similar to an arrangement a Consultant may have).

Are Special Counsel accredited specialists?

This is dependent on the person.  There is no requirement that a Special Counsel be an accredited specialist.

How is Special Counsel different to that of a Consultant?

A Special Counsel is an employed solicitor, whereas a Consultant is usually a contractor and may not be a qualified legal practitioner, for example, a law firm may bring in a tax expert as a consultant.  In some cases, a Consultant could be brought on for a specific task or project. Consultants may not receive a salary and only receive a percentage of their billed (and recovered) fees.

Do Special Counsel still have to report to a Partner?

This depends on firm requirements.  Some firms, for example, allow junior lawyers to sign advices while other firms have quality assurance and panel requirements which state that only Partners or their delegates may sign advices. Generally speaking, Special Counsel would have an arrangement in place which is suitable to the firms needs on whether or not they are required to ‘report in’ to a Partner for sign-off on their work.

Some firms use ‘National Special Counsel’ what is that?

Some listed firms, including Shine Lawyers, are not able to use the title “Partner’.  Therefore, those who were a Partner could no longer use the title.  Those firms made a decision to adopt National Special Counsel as a way of showing their seniority.

Partners & Directors

What is the difference between a Partner, Principals and Director?

A Partner is part of a partnership, which generally was the type of entity most law firms were. Typically partners are part owners in the business, however, there are also salaried partners who do not have equity in the business.  In recent years there has been a shift to the type of entity a law firm takes and some firms are formed as a company, with some even being listed or as incorporated legal practice (ILP).  The firms formed as companies generally use the Director title.  Typically, a director means a board director/board member.  A board member can be non-executive or executive, and they oversee and manage the business.  However, the title director is also given to a company owner. Many ILPs use the title of Director or Principal to reflect those lawyers who would have traditionally been called Partners if they practice still operated as a Partnership. When it comes to law firms, both a partner and director hold leadership positions within the organisation, and traditionally hold equity in the firm. Some firms also used Principal and Non-Principal titles.  Practitioners should read the information issued by the Queensland Law Society on the topic before determining titles and types of practising certificates that are applied for.

There are all male partners in my firm, how do I approach a Partner promotion conversation?

You should approach this as you would any other difficult conversation, however some of our members have reported difficulties in negotiating certain terms with an all male partnership.  WLAQ offers members access to its Friends of WLAQ, who are available to assist with this type of conversation.  Some of our Management Committee may also have experience with these conversations and are available for discussion, or to refer to you another person who may be able to have a general chat with you. In order to prepare, you should do your research early on in your career.  Approach your supervising partner or the human resource department in order to understand what career pathways are available to you at that organisation.  Is partnership one of them and if so, what are the expected capabilities required of a partner.  You may even wish to have discussions with your supervising partner about how to develop the necessary skills and capabilities now so that you are in a position in the future to be offered partnership.  Have check-ins with your partner to ensure that you are still on track. Once you believe you have achieved the agreed upon requirements for becoming a partner, ask your supervising partner if you could set up a meeting to discuss your career progression.  Ensure that you have prepared for the meeting.  You will need to be able to demonstrate how you meet the required capabilities and articulate your achievements in terms of areas such as quality of work, billings, leadership, business development etc.  Consider the value you bring to the organisation.   Research other organisations and the current market. At the end of the meeting try to leave with clarity over your future career.  Consider whether or not it lies with or outside that organisation.  Sometimes in order to be truly valued you need to move to a firm that recognises your contributions and rewards you accordingly.

Should I have a business coach or executive coach before or having becoming Partner/Director?

There is no right or wrong answer to this.  However, we have found that our members have found benefit in engaging a business coach to help them with career planning and business development.  Your firm may be willing to meet the costs of a coach as part of your professional development. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so working with a coach can provide you with greater insight and develop the necessary skills and capabilities to best position you for the role you desire.

Am I expected to immediately learn leadership skills simply by being named a Partner/Director?  How can I develop these in advance?

To be promoted to the position of Partner or Director would indicate that you hold a level of leadership qualities.  If partnership is your desired career plan you should look to build your leadership skills while you are still a Senior Associate or Special Counsel.  This could be done through a formal mentorship at your firm with an already established Partner or with a business coach. Some firms will provide you with leadership/management training either internally or externally.  Others promote lawyers based on their nature ability to manage and lead others as well as being a good lawyer.  However, it is common for firms to promote lawyers based purely on their legal knowledge and then these lawyers are left to their own devices when it comes to managing people.  In these circumstances it is best to speak to your supervising partner or Human Resources department (if available), about the best way to learn and develop these skills.  It should not be the expectation of your firm that on the day you are appointed to a leadership position that you automatically know how to manage and/or lead.  These are skills that are developed with time, experience, training and education.  As such, ask for help and training.  Also, seek out someone in the firm that you can speak to if you have a concern or issue you need help with addressing.  People problems are often some of the most stressful problems you will face in the organisation so do not be afraid to ask for the right help. Additionally, you should consider doing your own additional reading and research into leadership skills and managing people, particularly in professional services industries. As a Partner you also complete the Queensland Law Society’s Practice Management Course, which assists you with practical skills required for running a law firm.

What is the difference between a salaried partner and an equity partner?

On promotion to Partner, many firms have a gradual move to equity partnership.  This is not the case for all firms and will depend on their structure.  As a salaried Partner, you will receive a salary for a set amount of time (sometimes up to three years) and once you have an established practice, and provided equity is available, you could move to an equity partnership.  You should ask these questions prior to being promoted to Partner so that all expectations are known. An equity partner will have had to have paid a certain amount of money to buy in to the partnership.  A salaried partner, on the other hand, has been elevated to the position of leader and is paid a salary to reflect this position without having any ownership of the business, or the risks attached with ownership.


What is a day in the life of a reader (previously called pupils)?

A day in the life of a reader varies greatly on a number of factors such as your practice area, location of practice (regional or metro), support of your senior and junior master and your post admission experience.  You may spend your days networking, observing in Court, devilling or undertaking your own paid work.  Speak to someone in your intended practice area and location who is recently new to the Bar to get an idea of what to expect during your first year at the Bar.

Should I reach out for devilling work?

Yes, if you are interested in doing so.  A recommended place to start is with your senior and junior masters along with your Chamber colleagues.  Whilst you can expect to be paid for devilling, it is good to determine what that may be upfront as different Barristers take different approaches to remuneration for devilling.

How do I set up my practice as a reader?

Have a business plan.  Think about engaging an accountant to determine your financial position as it will underpin all of the decisions you make when setting up practice.  From a practical perspective, once you have secured a room in Chambers there is little you need other than robes, mobile phone and a laptop.  The rest can be found either as a free service or borrowed from colleagues.

What should I expect in terms of income in my first year?

This is very much contingent on the area of law you are practising in, where you practice, post admission experience and your expenses.  The best way to get an idea is to speak to readers who have just completed their first year in the same jurisdiction as the one you intend to practice in.

Should I accept any briefs that come my way in my early years so I can establish a name for myself?

Yes, as long as you have the time and experience to do a good job than there is no reason not to.  Note: always be aware of your ethical duties when it comes to accepting briefs and keep them in mind when deciding whether or not you can accept a brief.

How important is the Chambers you choose?

Choosing your Chambers is one of the most important decisions to make when at the Bar.  What makes a good chamber group is subjective.  Just remember, don’t be afraid to move if the group you find yourself in is not the right fit for you.

What should I have in the kitty before going to the bar?

The answer to this depends on what work you have secured prior to commencing at the Bar, the strength of your skills and networks and your anticipated expenses.  Have enough saved to cover several months of expenses (both work related and personal).

Do I need an accountant/ I have no idea about finances, what do I do?

It is a good idea to speak to an accountant about how to prepare for life as a sole trader and what to do once you commence self-employment.  It is vital that you are aware of your tax obligations (including preparation of BAS etc) and are planning for them before they arise.

I want to move Chambers, how do I approach this?

This is contingent on where you practice and any contractual obligations you may have with current chambers.  Be discreet, professional and respectful to all parties.  You may find that depending on your finish date in your current Chambers and start date at your new Chambers you may have to pay “double rent” for a short period of time.

Should I ask for reduced Chamber fees while I go on maternity leave?

This is entirely a personal matter for you as to whether or not you ask and the outcome will depend on your Chamber group.  There have been reports of New South Wales and Victoria Chamber groups (which are set up differently to Queensland) offering reduced Chamber fees during maternity leave.

If I am a regional barrister does that mean I cannot take city-based briefs?

Absolutely not.  It is a great benefit to regional barristers to accept briefs outside of their region.  Some benefits include being able to experience other Courts (and Judges), watch and learn from a wider range of advocates, as well as expand your network of colleagues.

Should I have door chambers in the closest city?

Some regional barristers do, although it is not necessary.  The key is to build contacts and your reputation outside of your location to increase the prospects of being briefed in other localities.  Sometimes it is simply good luck that you happen to be briefed in other areas.

I need to breastfeed and I am in a regional Court.

In early 2017, WLAQ met with the Courts to determine a suitable process for breastfeeding members.  There are facilities available in the Brisbane Supreme and District Court Complex for practitioners to use should they be unable to return to Chambers or their office.  There is a dedicated family room on Level 2 (with a fridge) and a female robing room is also available. If members are appearing in a regional Supreme Court and require the use of a fridge, they should approach the Registrar of that Court to assist in finding a suitable room to use, along with a fridge.

Community Legal Centres

What is a CLC role?

A CLC role is a lawyer who works at a Community Legal Centre.  Some practitioners from firms also volunteer at CLCs as part of their pro-bono practices.

I want to focus more on pro-bono.  Should I leave my firm and go to a CLC?

There are a number of ways to practice as a pro-bono lawyer.  Many firms have a set pro-bono team, which are a team of lawyers who concentrate on pro-bono matters but may have assistance from other groups depending on the nature of the work.  If you do not want to leave your firm but want to shift to a pro-bono practice, you should reach out to your firm’s pro-bono coordinator. If you want to leave your firm, there are a number of CLCs throughout Queensland.  Before making the move you could have a coffee with the Principal Solicitor (generally the person that is responsible for running the CLC) and speak to them about the type of work, pay and availability of positions.

I am a graduate and thought it would be easy to get a CLC role, but no one will take me on.  Why is that?

Most CLCs are Government funded, but that does not mean that they do not operate any differently to firms; the main difference is the clients.  If a CLC is unable to employ you it generally means that they do not have any available positions.  Obtaining a position at a CLC can be as highly competitive as obtaining a position in a firm.

I have been volunteering with a CLC for over a year and they committed to looking for a paid position for me.  They haven’t yet.  What do I do?

You should approach your Principal Solicitor and have a discussion with them about this.  There may not be a negative reason as to why it has not been actioned, and the sooner you have the conversation the easier it will be to resolve the issue. While we are not aware of this practice happening in Queensland, be mindful of the hours that you have contributed as a volunteer and if you believe it has moved past the agreed hours you should obtain advice, for example, from a Counsellor at the Queensland Law Society on how to best approach this,


How is a Consultant different from a Special Counsel or Partner role?

A Consultant is usually a contractor and may not be a qualified legal practitioner, for example, a law firm may bring in a tax expert as a consultant.  In some cases, a Consultant could be brought on for a specific task or project. Consultants may not receive a salary and only receive a percentage of their billed (and recovered) fees.

Do I need to pay rent and other charges for being a Consultant?

This depends on your arrangement.  It can be common for the agreement to require payment for rent of the office, use of technology and equipment.  Rather than there being an exchange of money, sometimes an agreement will state that any charges owed by a Consultant will be deducted from any fees owed by the firm to the Consultant.

Government Lawyers

What type of Government roles are there?

There are a number of different Government roles available in Queensland.  This could be a direct Department role, for example Department of Health, or it may be part of Crown Law or another division of the Government.

If I start work in Government, will I be able to transition to a firm?

Absolutely.  There is nothing stating that once you are a Government lawyer, you cannot go to private practice.  It will all depend on your experience as to whether or not you are successful in applying for a role.

I want to leave a firm and go to a Government role.  Is this a step backward?

Definitely not.  There are a number of top law graduates who are now working in Government.  It all depends on your preference for practice and the type of work you want to do.

There is limited ability to negotiate a pay rise, but I know I am on a band lower than my colleagues. What do I do?

Being subject to a band or grade can be difficult for Government lawyers as there could be limited scope for a pay rise or a band-jump.  If you are on a band lower than your colleagues (be careful as employment contracts generally require that pay information is kept confidential), and you feel you have the same skills and experience, you should talk to your supervisor.  Be careful as to how you approach the sharing of information in terms of you being on a lower band given employment contractual requirements.  The best way to approach any type of pay rise discussion is to have the evidence to support your request for an increase.

In-House and General Counsel

What is the difference between In-House and General Counsel?

In-House Counsel are generally more junior lawyers and are to deal with immediate and day-to-day legal matters of the business.  General Counsel (GCs) are generally more than 10 PAE and may be more involved in the strategy and decisions of the business.  Some GC may hold an executive role. Essentially, General Counsel are the Chief Legal Officer for the company who oversee the in-house legal team and manages the company’s portfolio of risk.  The role of General Counsel requires balancing business, legal and ethical considerations, making strategic and commercial business decisions and effectively communicating risks to the company.  The General Counsel role is also closely associated and often integrated with the company secretary role, which is responsible for the administration of the company and compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. With either position, it is important that Counsel recognise what is legal advice as opposed to general business matters so as to ensure legal professional privilege is appropriately applied.

Is it true that an in-house role is where you should go if you want to have children as it’s ‘less work’ or is this a myth?

This would be a myth.  While in-house do not have billable targets to meet, their ‘clients’ are internal stakeholders who may require advice at any time of the day or night.

I want to move from In-House to General Counsel but I am close in seniority to the General Counsel and cannot see them leaving any time soon. Should I leave?

This is a personal decision and there is no ‘right’ answer.  Some options could be to talk to the General Counsel as there may be the prospect of having a Deputy General Counsel role created for you.

What are the working hours like in-house?

In-house lawyers typically do not have billable hourly targets  and therefore the working hours are wholly dependent on the work load of the individual.  Workload will be dependent on the size of the company and the size of the in-house team that the work is spread across.  Often workload can be significant, particularly when there are big transactions taking place within the company or there are multiple competing tasks, all of which are urgent.  However, there are often downtimes too.

Who pays for my Practicing Certificate and how do I stay up to date with my CPD requirements?

Most companies will pay for practising certificates for their lawyers, however it is important to ensure that this is negotiated and included in your employment contract, prior to signing, so that both employer and employee expectations are set and met.  If you are unsure whether or not the cost of your practising certificate is payable by your company or not, email your HR department prior to signing your employment contract and ask. Unlike private practice law-firms, corporate companies generally do not hold CPD seminars in-house because of the small size of in-house legal teams and the cost of hosting such seminars.  However, private practice law firms will often host CPD seminars for their client’s in-house counsel and it is useful to reach out to the lawyers your company works with and ask to be put on their networking mailing list.  The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) also holds CPD seminars and provides other useful resources for in-house lawyers.  The membership cost of the ACC is something which you can negotiate with your employer.

How much PAE do I have to have before I go in-house?

Each company will have different requirements when advertising in-house legal roles.  Bigger companies typically have larger in-house legal teams and therefore often look for a range of experience levels, from newly admitted lawyers, up to general counsel.  Generally, most in-house roles advertise for lawyers with 4+ years of PAE.

Are in-house roles more autonomous that private practice?

As with most roles, the level of autonomy is dependent upon the person managing the role.  However, in general, in-house lawyers do have more autonomy as the teams are smaller than private practice teams and the General Counsel’s work load is significant, meaning there is a high level of trust and autonomy placed on the in-house role.

Do I have to have a background in Corporate law to go in-house?

Whilst it is useful to have a background in corporate law to transition into an in-house role, it is not essential.  Because of the broad range of work in-house lawyers do, there is no one area of law which an in-house lawyer will strictly advise on.  Litigation and Disputes experience is useful in identifying and preventing risk at the front end (ie in negotiating contracts).  For companies in the construction sector, construction law experience is useful.  The type of experience required will be dependent on the in-house role and what past experience the company is looking for an in-house lawyer to contribute to the legal team.

What type of work do in-house lawyers do?

Broadly speaking, the role of an in-house lawyer is to look after the legal needs of the company, therefore in-house lawyers tend to do a broad variety of work, which will vary depending on the nature and size of the company.  An in-house lawyer is an adviser to the business, providing pragmatic advice on areas of risk within a business as well as strategy. This can range from handling employment law matters, undertaking due diligence of and advising the board in relation to mergers and acquisitions, reviewing new legislation and drafting corporate policy, commercial contracting, negotiating property leases and other property related matters, buying and selling of assets, advising on joint ventures, trademarking, advising on intellectual property and confidentiality, receiving and responding to disputes (including negotiating settlements) as well as legal and regulatory compliance.  It is often said that no two days in-house are the same because of the varied nature of the work done by an in-house lawyer.

Do I have to do business development as an in-house lawyer?

The role of an in-house lawyer is to do the legal work required for that company.  As such, business development in the strict sense, in terms of bringing in new business and clients, is not a requirement of the in-house lawyer role.  However, from a personal development perspective, it is useful to build up a network of private practice lawyers and other in-house counsel for support.

What skills should I develop if I want to become an in-house lawyer?

Advising a company as an in-house lawyer involves a different way of providing advice to clients than what is required of a private practice lawyer.  Companies typically require commercial, pragmatic advice focussed on risk management and minimisation.  Companies want to know the answer, the cost and the risk to the business.  It is therefore important to be able to understand the nature of the business and find commercially practical strategies for solving the problems of that business.  It is also essential to be flexible and have the ability to work with the different facets of the company as, oftentimes, the strict legal answer is not the most commercially appropriate answer. Forward looking is also crucial; knowing where your business is going so that you can provide strategic advice with a long-term focus. Not having billable targets also requires effective time management skills and the ability to prioritise what work is important, because there are often competing tasks which require your attention, all of which are urgent. Effective and fast decision making is also vital as being an in-house lawyer can often involve ‘putting out fires’. Finally, being able to communicate clearly and effectively with people from all different experience levels, skills sets and backgrounds.  Although the answer might be the same to a question asked by two different people, the way you communicate that answer can often be vastly different.  The key to developing relationships as an in-house lawyer is trust and a big part of gaining trust is knowing your audience and tailoring your communication to them.

What career progression opportunities are available for an in-house lawyer?

Unlike in private practice, the opportunities for growth in-house are less structured.  The most common transition for in-house lawyers is into the role of General Counsel.

Company Secretary

What is the role of the Company Secretary?

The role of Company Secretary (CoSec) can vary depending on the size and nature of the organisation but ordinarily, the role of the company secretary can include:

  1. advising the board and its committees on governance matters;
  2. monitoring that board and committee policy and procedures are followed;
  3. coordinating the timely completion and despatch of board and committee papers;
  4. ensuring that the business at board and committee meetings is accurately captured in the minutes; and
  5. helping to organise and facilitate the induction and professional development of directors.

I am a lawyer at a firm and they want to appointment me CoSec for a client.  Will I be expected to go to all meetings?  Will I be expected to give legal advice?

Yes, you would ordinarily be expected to attend all board meetings.

Company secretaries often have legal responsibilities in addition to their work in support of the board.  These responsibilities will vary according to the specific needs of the organisation but often relate to giving guidance on the legal implications of the way the board discharges its duties, runs meetings, and makes decisions.  Because of the volume of legal compliance work and required knowledge of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and other legislation, it is common for company secretaries to have legal qualifications.  For this reason, their role is often combined with that of general counsel.

Legal advice provided by the Company Secretary should not extend to the provision of specialised advice on queries and issues facing the organisation, and the Company Secretary should reach out to the organisation’s internal legal team or engage an external law firm to advise on such matters.

Do I have to do the AICD course to become a CoSec?

There is no strict requirement to complete the AICD course to become a CoSec but it is highly common (and sometimes even expected by an organisation).

I have noticed that the Board is lacking in general governance.  How do I approach this?

Company Secretaries are often responsible for the overall governance within an organisation and should raise their concerns if the board is lacking in general governance.  Where possible, this could be raised with the organisation’s legal team in the first instance who you can work with to determine the best approach.  Otherwise, you may wish for this to be raised and considered at a meeting of the board.  Boards will often be receptive to any suggestions and recommendations you are able to offer as it is more important than ever for companies to ensure their corporate governance practices align with the expectations of their stakeholders.

Board Roles

What should I look for in a Board role?

This depends on your skillset and what type of Board you would like to be part of.  Before taking up a Board position you must do your due diligence, this requires obtaining approval from your firm (including conflict of interest clearances), asking the company to provide information of its insurance, liquidity and details of any claims (pending, discontinued or resolved) in the prior five years. It may also be beneficial to talk to other members of the Board or past members to find out their experiences.

How much time is required to be on a Board?

The amount of time required by a director will vary with each company.  The director will be required to attend Board meetings, read board papers, stay up to date with current trends or issues impacting that industry etc.  However, the position is normally less onerous (in terms of timing) than that of a full time job. In fact, most directors either sit on a number of boards or work full time in addition to sitting on boards. Before joining a board ensure that you understand the full time commitment required of you for that particular organisation. Consider whether or not you are in a position to give this organisation your full attention during this time or if will conflict with your other engagements.  Some organisations require their boards to meet in person, so also consider any travel that might be involved.

What is an operational board?

An operational board is one you may see moreso with Committees, such as WLAQ, where the Board (or Committee) are responsible for the day to day operations of the Association.  Traditionally (and from a legal point of view), Boards of companies are not involved in the day to day management of a company.  You need to understand the company you are looking to join and the operational input from the Board to help you determine what your risk appetite for joining is.

Should I be paid for being a board member?

This is dependent on the Company on which you are a Board member.  Some pay expenses only (check if they pay or if it is reimbursement) and others may pay for your actual role. If you receive remuneration for your role as a Board member, that is, in addition to expenses, you may need to disclose this to your firm as they may require you to pay this to the firm.

How many NED roles do I need to take on to earn a living?

The income of a director varies significantly depending on the type of organisation in question.  Most not-for-profit organisations have volunteer directors or lower salaries then those in private or listed companies. According to a 2016 survey undertaken by the Australian Institute of Company Directors entitled “How Does My Director Pay Compare”, the average board fee for listed sector directors was $87,604, compared to $53,777 for private sectors.

We never receive Board papers before a meeting and I am not satisfied that we are getting all of the information, as a Board, to make a decision. What should I do?

Boards must be properly briefed prior to a meeting so that they can make adequate and informed decisions.  The Royal Commission into the Banking and Finance Sector touched on this. If you are not receiving the Board papers in a suitable timeframe prior to a meeting, or the volume is excessive, you should talk to the Chair of the Board as this is an area of risk.


How do I move into academia?  Should I start with tutoring?

Tutoring is a great way to get a taste for academic life.  If you are serious about an academic career, you’ll want to investigate postgraduate study (Masters and/or a PhD).  There are obligations to conduct research and to publish your findings in appropriate journals.  You can start down this track by jointing publishing with others.

I want to move away from practising law, but am worried about no longer being seen as a ‘lawyer’.  How do I overcome this?

Moving into academia will require investment (of time and money) in postgraduate study.  If you choose an area of further study or research that aligns with one or more legal practice areas, it is valuable to maintain links with the profession through:
  • Continuing in private practice (full-time or part-time) and pursuing study/research either part or full-time.  Many “academics” take part-time consultancy roles within firms.
  • Join or maintain an active membership of related professional associations (e.g., Family Law Practitioners Association; Australian Insurance Law Association; etc.)
  • As you progress further into your academic career, take all opportunities to use your research to remain connected with the profession:
    • Publishing in professional magazines;
    • Speaking at industry conferences and seminars
    • Seeking membership of a professional association practice area committee
While a full-time academic may not have a “lawyer” title, you can still be involved in the profession in a number of different ways.

Should I maintain my practising certificate?

Always consult your professional association about current practising requirements, including certification and obligation to insure.  Generally speaking, unless you are intending to engage in legal work, a practising certificate is not necessary, but some choose to maintain it for personal reasons.

What is the difference between a Professor and Associate Professor?

Australia has a system of academic titles and ranks which start at Tutor/Associate Lecturer/Research Associate (Level A) and move up through Lecturer/Research Fellow (Level B), Senior Lecturer/Senior Research Fellow (Level C) to Associate Professor/Reader (Level D). Professor is the highest of all these rankings. When completing the duties associated with their roles, a Professor’s job description will likely have a higher emphasis on leadership, to that of an Associate Professor, and will generally be required to represent the University at international and local conferences. In order to achieve the ranking of Professor, a candidate must meet each university’s minimum standards as to recognition, distinction and leadership.   Depending on the university and the role, the candidate may need to demonstrate leadership in developing curriculum and in teaching and management and produce papers relating to their area of expertise.

I have been in academia for years, but want to move to a firm or in-house.  Is this possible?

Many firms engage academics who are eligible to hold a practising certificate as consultants. The key is being able to demonstrate practical application of academic expertise.  Generally speaking, academics who research specific areas of law build a very thorough knowledge and understanding of their area and so can add value by applying a more detailed perspective to legal issues. In order to maintain an active involvement in practice, you could consider publishing articles and case notes in local Law Society and Bar Association journals, presenting Continuing Legal Education seminars and/or joining their Committees to enhance your understanding of current legal practice in your area of academic expertise. It will be a matter for the firm or company as to whether or not you have the skillset to satisfy the job description you have applied for.  Generally speaking, becoming an academic does not prevent you from returning to practice as a lawyer in later years.

Speaking roles

I am getting invited to do more speaking roles, they are not always legal focussed.  Do I do these on behalf of my firm or can I be personally paid to do this?

This will depend on your firm.  Some require that you obtain approval prior to accepting a speaking engagement, and others have rules on approval of content and use of your firm’s logo on the slides. In terms of payment, it is often that firms will simply tell the organisation that you are to speak for or at, that the fee is waived (usually done as a value add for an existing client or to build relationships with potential clients).  If a fee is collected, your firm may require this to be paid to the firm.

How do I build my speaker profile?

Speakers are often recognised as experts in their field.  One way to start your speaking career is to volunteer to co-present for CPD sessions.  This allows you to build confidence while giving you a platform as an ‘expert’ in an area while still having the safeguard of a fellow presenter (who is generally more senior than you).

What is the difference between being on a panel, being a guest speaker and being a keynote speaker?

A keynote speaker is usually one who opens a conference and is the ‘drawcard’ for an event.  They are generally well known in that area or generally in public.  Being asked to keynote is often a great compliment. A guest speaker means that you generally speak after the keynote and are not the ‘main card’, but you are still recognised as an expert in an area.  Some events may call you a guest speaker even though there is only one speaker.  This likely would not fall within the ‘keynote’ area as there is only one address. A panel speaker is a person who sits with other panel speakers and is a format used when a variety of different opinions are wanted and there is limited time to allow for a full guest speaking spot. The other option is that of a facilitator for a panel or an event (this is different to an MC).  This person is generally a person who has completed a number of keynotes or guest speaking positions and has broad knowledge of a number of areas.  Again, it is quite complimentary to be asked to be a facilitator.