The law profession has always been a distinguished one, with careers in law being held in high regard for centuries. As a stronghold for the upholding of moral and ethical principles, the practice of law encompasses some of the most righteous human values of justice and fairness. Being such a noble profession, it’s little wonder that being a lawyer is a well sought-after job in Australia. But careers, like all other aspects of economy and society, have witnessed huge changes to their value and worth over the years. So how much is being a lawyer really worth these days? Here’s what data research on salaries of jobs in Australia shows.

 

The monetary worth of a lawyer

Based on 2013-2014 statistics from the Australian Taxation Office, the average pay for a lawyer is $153,573. Of course, a number by itself doesn’t tell us much. The value of pay figures can only be derived by benchmarking against two things: the salary of other occupations and the cost of living in the country. 

So where does a lawyer’s pay stand in comparison to other jobs in Australia? The short answer is nowhere in the top 50. As surprising as it may be, the average pay of lawyers falls below many other white-collar jobs. The top 50 highest paying jobs mostly fall under the healthcare sector, with some spots going to finance and banking jobs and even certain engineering jobs. When it comes to the law profession, only the highest-ranking law personnel make it to the list. That is judges and magistrates, who are responsible for making court rulings. 

As national statistics have revealed, regular lawyers are not exactly the biggest earners in society. This definitely contradicts the common view that lawyers are some of the most well-paid professions and also raises many questions. Without a doubt, the most burning question is: why isn’t the pay of a lawyer as high as expected? After all, the Australian law system was inherited from the English one, and lawyers are amongst the top 10 best-paid professions in England. 

There are many overlapping socio-political and economic factors that contribute to the lower-than-expected ranking of a lawyer’s pay, but the factor that stands out most is the labor market trend. The supply of new lawyers far outweighs the demand due to a booming number of fresh law graduates, as reported in Lawyers Weekly. The low salary ranking coincides with the news that law firms are hiring only one-fifth of the number they used to hire, and at a lower starting pay because of the huge supply of law graduates. 

Nevertheless, the salary statistics quoted by the Australian Tax Office are largely generalized. In order to really get to the bottom of understanding how much a law career in Australia is really worth, we have to break down the difference in salaries of the two different types of lawyers: solicitors and barristers.

 

The difference between a solicitor and a barrister

The figure earlier quoted was an average of the salary of a solicitor and a barrister. In actual fact, there is a distinctive difference between the salaries of the two different types of lawyers. Barristers, whose main duties are to represent clients in court, earn higher average pay than solicitors, who commonly do more behind-the-scenes work, usually of an advisory or administrative nature. 

The barrister salary in Australia averages at $168,766. On the other hand, the solicitor salary in Australia stands at $138,379. The difference in pay is to be expected, considering the huge differences in the nature of work that the two types of lawyers engage in. 

Barristers can be considered the action figures in the law world as they are the ones engaging in the live court proceedings that are so often dramatized for entertainment in television shows and books. They tend to have specialized knowledge in one certain area of law. 

Solicitors also typically focus on certain specializations, but they engage in the preparation of court documents and advisory work. They have limited rights in court as compared to barristers and are usually the ones working with clients as compared to barristers. In fact, solicitors often engage barristers on behalf of their clients.

 

Getting a law certification in Australia

In terms of education, both types of lawyers generally follow the same educational path to get their qualifications. However, barristers have an additional layer of training as compared to solicitors, which can explain why their salary is slightly higher on average. 

The first step to getting a law certification in Australia is obtaining a Bachelor of Law (LLB) or a Juris Doctor (JD), which is usually a three to four-year course to learn the basics of law. This is followed by pursuing a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, where candidates obtain practical training by engaging in supervised legal practice — this qualification can be obtained within six months. 

After this, an application must be made to a branch of the Admissions Authority to act as a lawyer under supervision. At this stage, one can only perform work as a solicitor and not a barrister. Upon completion of 18 to 24 months of working under supervision, a lawyer can then apply for Practicing Certificate under the Law Society. 

Only after receiving this certificate can a lawyer then go into further studies and enter the Bar Readers’ Course to become a barrister. Those who choose to remain as solicitors can also do further studies in their chosen area of expertise.

The paths to becoming a barrister are longer than that of a solicitor’s, but pay shouldn’t be the determining factor behind any career decisions. After all, we can see from the pay rankings that labor market forces are a major driving force behind the monetary value of a job. Future analyses of the value of a law career should always incorporate information on the labor market in order to get the clearest and most accurate understanding.