The UNSW Law & Justice Careers team are acutely attuned to market changes in and around the criminology and legal professions. Our service is here to assist you, by advising how to forward-plan your career, with tips on gaining work experience, preparing job applications, where to look for jobs, clerkships and graduate programs, and staying up to date with topical issues across the legal and criminology professions.
As well as providing career seminars and resources, we also host panel discussions throughout the year, showcasing a broad range of industry professionals to inform students about current and emerging issues for career pathways.
Check out MyLaw for information on where to search for jobs and resources to help you prepare job applications.
For any further information, contact the team.
Working as a solicitor at a law firm has long been the traditional starting point for many law graduates.
Law firms come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are incorporated but the majority retain a partnership model. More recently, a new breed of law firm – collectively called NewLaw – has entered the legal landscape.
Law firms include:
A successful career in private practice generally commences with a graduate/junior lawyer role progressing to associate after two years, then senior associate, culminating in promotion to partnership or a directorship with the firm over time.
The experience gained in private practice can also serve as a valuable stepping-stone to a career as in-house counsel, at the Bar or in a range of senior commercial, strategic and management roles.
Most larger corporations have a dedicated legal team to advise the business and management on the various legal matters affecting the company. In-house legal teams are growing steadily in size and influence and are found in most sectors – from banks and financial institutions to construction, pharmaceutical, resources and media companies. The importance of the in-house legal function is reflected in the fact that the legal team increasingly also shoulders responsibility for the company secretarial, corporate governance and risk and compliance functions. In-house legal roles are a valuable stepping-stone to senior management, commercial and strategic roles.
Lawyers working in government and public policy areas are at the forefront of law reform and public administration.
The following publications are a great place to start researching your public law career. They contain a wealth of information, advice and profiles of lawyers working in a wide range of jobs in public law and government.
The NSW Government Graduate Program is a wonderful opportunity to see and learn first-hand how government works. Participants will receive 18 months of work experience across a range of government agencies such as the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Justice or the Department of Planning and Environment and Treasury. An offer of ongoing employment will be made on successful completion of the program.
For further details, watch the video from the NSW Government Graduate Program Information Evening held at NSW Parliament House.
To learn more about working for the NSW Government, see how to apply for a job in the NSW Public Service.
Public interest law aims to assist those groups in our society who are vulnerable and unable to represent themselves – for example, socially disadvantaged citizens, women, children and the elderly, people with physical disabilities and mental health issues, Indigenous people, refugees, asylum seekers, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people in detention and prisoners. Public interest law also aims to represent those parts of our society that cannot speak for themselves, such as animals and the environment.
Public interest lawyers work in a range of organisations, both national and international. A non-exhaustive list of these organisations includes community legal centres, non-legal community organisations, government (at all levels, including the United Nations), the Bar and the judiciary (including both national and international courts and tribunals), non-government organisations (NGOs), not-for-profits, universities, the diplomatic service, the military and emergency services, security organisations, the media, international trade organisations and monetary funds.
Lawyers in private practice can also work in the public interest space, particularly if they are providing their services pro bono, that is for free, or at a significantly reduced fee.
The breadth of legal experience gained in public interest law is wide-ranging and may include criminal, human rights and humanitarian, environmental, Indigenous, immigration/refugee, employment, health, tenancy, administrative, property and commercial law.
It may also include advocacy in a more general sense, such as policy, politics, lobbying, making submissions to government, education, journalism and social media, research, community and aid work, negotiation, security and diplomacy.
Lawyers who work in rural, regional and remote areas may also find themselves practising in the public interest sphere due to the smaller community size and relatively larger proportion of Indigenous people.
Gaining as much experience as possible in public interest law, for example as a volunteer or intern, is key to starting a career in the field. Due to the nature of public interest law, many roles in this area are initially unpaid, however, there are some (often highly contested) opportunities that are paid or provide a travel or meal allowance.
Check out the National Pro Bono Resource Centre and Australian Law Students Association’s Social Justice Opportunities: A Career Guide for Law Students and New Lawyers and Social Justice Work Opportunities across Australia.
To become a barrister, you must:
Before you can apply for a NSW barrister’s practising certificate, you must be admitted as a lawyer of the Supreme Court of NSW or another Australian state or territory under a corresponding law.
You can go straight to the Bar after university, but it's recommended you work for at least 18 months first. This is so you can make connections and see whether litigating at the Bar is the path you want to follow.
The NSW Bar Exam is offered twice a year, and as of 2021, in three subjects related specifically to advocacy: legal ethics for barristers, aspects of evidence, and practice and procedure for barristers. These are examined in one integrated NSW Bar Examination.
Afterwards, the Bar Practice Course must be undertaken within 15 months of passing the examination.
The Bar Practice Course is very intensive, involving advocacy training, mock applications (before real judges) and seminars. There is homework and some sessions take place on the weekend. A reader (lawyers undertaking the Bar Practice Course) has no right to appear in court without being led by another barrister until the course is completed.
The lawyer is issued with an initial practising certificate with reader conditions. The period of reading is often referred to as a ‘reading year’, starting when the practising certificate with reader conditions is issued and continuing for a minimum of 12 months. During that time, the reader remains under the supervision of at least one experienced barrister, who is called a tutor.
It is advisable to apply for a reader’s position at a Barristers’ Chambers and to do this before signing up for the Bar examination. The Bar Association website has dates and application details.
Professional indemnity insurance is a statutory requirement for all barristers in New South Wales. Find out more about professional indemnity insurance.
A judge's associate or tipstaff assists the judge in conducting legal research and preparing judgments. They also perform a range of court-related duties in Chambers and in-court duties during proceedings. The appointment is generally a 1–2-year contract. It is also worth noting that some courts and tribunals offer research positions.
An associate/tipstaff position at any level offers an exclusive opportunity to watch and learn about the country’s most complex legal issues from the finest lawyers and to witness advocacy in action.
Appointments to such roles are highly sought after. For instance, the High Court of Australia generally requires students to have graduated with First Class Honours. Prerequisites, however, will vary by Court and we recommend that you read, understand and consider the selection criteria to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements of the associate or tipstaff role for the Court.
A Law degree at UNSW equips you with more than just legal skills. Many of our graduates pursue interesting and rewarding careers in banking, consulting, professional services or media/journalism, among other fields.
Management consulting is a client-service-based industry assisting businesses to develop and deconstruct their strategy, management and operations. Consultants are usually employed to improve an organisation’s performance by analysing commercial problems and providing solutions. Consulting firms can service both private sector clients as well as public sector organisations. They provide the opportunity to work for a variety of clients on different projects spanning industries as well as geographic locations. Working in management consulting also provides you with a breadth of commercial understanding and management skills, which are highly transferrable into the business world.
Professional services firms support businesses of all sizes across a variety of industries. They can provide specialist advice and ensure regulatory compliance for clients ranging from accounting/auditing, strategic advice and tax support to legal services.
Investment bankers offer clients strategic advice and financial solutions concerning areas such as mergers, acquisitions, asset management, financing and risk management transactions. They are often involved in advising company executives about IPOs, purchasing of companies, debt or equity raising and restructuring over a vast range of industries.
Media law regulates the production and use of media, including broadcast media – radio and television – as well as film, digital and print. The practice of media law can involve a wide range of regulations and issues. For example, multimedia lawyers might work in software licensing and sale regulations, while broadcast media lawyers might work in technology, innovation, commercial and intellectual property law.
Most academic positions require a minimum of a postgraduate qualification, and you'll find the analytical and problem-solving skills gained from a Juris Doctor (JD), Masters or PhD program helpful in these roles. Law graduates with an interest in academic or research roles often begin by taking on tutoring or short-term research projects and you may find opportunities to join UNSW Law & Justice, as well as other higher education institutions.
Many government agencies have intelligence units that undertake a range of activities from active surveillance to policy and research, such as the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Government Department of Defence and Centrelink.
There are many opportunities available, including investigation of criminal activity, analysis of intelligence, liaison with domestic and international agencies, operational planning and policy. Liaison with other organisations, both in Australia and internationally, is commonplace. Most agencies have graduate programs to fast-track candidates with relevant degrees. Your criminal justice degree puts you ahead of the pack for this career pathway.
Working in intelligence and investigations, you'll be trained on compliance issues regarding legislation and policy. As a graduate with a criminal justice degree, you're well placed to work in this field and with experience will have numerous avenues to move laterally across agencies and upwards, including moving into specialised fields such as cyber-crime, organised crime (financial, terrorism, human trafficking, drug) and being involved in cross-border investigations.
Learn more about intelligence and investigations.
Put your knowledge of the criminal justice system and the impacts of policies on individuals and certain vulnerable cohorts in your community to use through a career in corrections. There are a range of job opportunities within this sector, including working in prisons, community corrections, and government and community agencies that support offenders pre- and post-release. Roles include frontline workers who case manage/support offenders, as well as policy and program officers.
As a graduate with a criminology degree, you're perfectly placed to assess the needs of individuals balanced against those of the community and the justice system. Government-funded initiatives and community organisations support offenders at various stages of interaction with the criminal justice system, as well as their families and victims of crime.
Learn more about prisons and corrections.
There are multiple avenues open to students with a degree in criminal justice working in law enforcement. While the entry point may be the same for students without completing university study, after the initial training, university graduates progress much faster and have more options open to them, for example moving into policy, forensics or intelligence. Your studies will continue to assist quicker progression throughout your ongoing career.
Law enforcement includes careers in police, customs, intelligence, Sheriff’s Office NSW, debt recovery agencies and investigations (across various government and private industries including health, Centrelink and education).
Roles within agencies are not confined to traditional duties of law enforcement but include assessment officers, border force officers, military police, security officer/assessment, security investigator, strategic advisor, criminal investigator and community safety officer.
Most government agencies have in-house investigation teams, for example the Education Department NSW employs officers to investigate private education providers, involving office and field officers as well as forensic accountants, interviewers and policy officers. Similarly, Centrelink has roles that include surveillance, policy analyst, case manager, investigator and more.
Learn more about law enforcement and investigations.
Graduates with a degree in criminal justice are uniquely placed to work with government, statutory authorities and private agencies to draft policy and design programs that identify and manage risk to individuals and agencies, and that also support those cohorts.
Working in policy can be extremely rewarding as change is effected on a broader scale. Skills required include lateral thinking and business acumen, whether the body is government or community-based. Consideration of the anticipated change or effects is equally important alongside the unanticipated. For example, the creation of ‘like’ button on Facebook was intended to be positive and fun but had the unintended consequence of exacerbating mental health among some teenagers who equated ‘likes’ with personal confidence. So too, all public policy changes create ripple effects throughout other services and the public perception of agencies. Therefore, lateral and critical thinking are as important as writing skills when it comes to policy.
Working in policy commonly offers more job security and set work hours as these types of roles are predominantly in public bodies or with government. They also offer flexible work hours and conditions and have generous leave allowances.
Learn more about policy, programs and research.
If you're interested in community services, your criminology degree will open many career pathways. Providing support and education to vulnerable cohorts can prevent and/or minimise harm. Jobs are available in a range of government bodies and through government-funded initiatives, as well as community agencies, health facilities, youth programs and faith-based organisations. While most community agencies require counselling qualifications, they also employ coordinators and program officers to design and deliver support initiatives, as well as research and policy officers.
Examples of criminology job titles: case manager (generalist or specialised, for example youth or drug and alcohol clients often have interactions with the criminal justice system), support officer, family/youth/homelessness support or program officer, justice conference coordinator, engagement worker.
Learn more about community services and advocacy.
Courts and tribunals do not just employ legal staff. There are multiple roles available for graduates interested in working within these settings, such as case managers, court support, social work positions, referral and assessment officers.
Examples of criminology job titles: case manager, assessment and referral officer, court support, domestic violence/family support officer/manager, tipstaff coordinator (these manage law students/permanent staff working as associates for the Judge), administration officers in the registry, and many more roles. Intake is usually through iWork for NSW or court websites.
Learn more about courts and tribunals.
Summer clerkships are offered by law firms to both final and penultimate year students, and some government departments for students to undertake summer vacation employment. These clerkships allow students to see what life is like working as a legal practitioner in a firm and to make informed decisions about future employment.
The Law Society of NSW coordinates the Summer Clerkship Program and the Graduate Employment Program (open to final-year law students) on behalf of law schools and larger law firms in NSW.
The clerkship process begins with an online application. This usually involves uploading your CV and cover letter. You may also be required to answer a few written questions and/or complete a personality/psychometric test. A number of firms have adopted the ‘Rare Contextual Recruitment System’ (CRS) which factors in demographic, geographic and educational data to get a fuller profile of applicants. There is also the option to set out any hardship or mitigating factors which you feel are relevant to your application.
Most firms report that they read all applications that come through and only then proceed with the elimination process. Even if your WAM is below a Distinction, students averaging a solid Credit are encouraged to apply. Generally, large firms will prioritise students with a WAM of 72/73+.
Have your CV ready to go. It should be a maximum of two pages, contain no spelling mistakes and have consistent formatting. Provide referees (do not state ‘available on request’).
Each cover letter must be tailored to the firm in question and show some original research of that firm. Original research does not mean simply rehashing something on the firm’s website. Ideally, you'll showcase your research via an interesting example of work the firm has undertaken or is involved in, or is insightful of their work culture. The cover letter should also reflect your interest in joining their firm and undertaking the type of work one would expect in a commercial law firm.
Tip: Commercial law is broader than mergers and acquisitions, and includes areas such as intellectual property, litigation, banking and finance and construction.
Each application will take from between one to three hours – it is a lengthy and quite arduous process. Strategise your time to prepare applications.
Increase your odds by applying to as many firms as possible, including researching firms that are not participating in the Legal Vitae program, such as large medium-size firms. Students report applying on average to 10–12 firms for clerkships. Check out the list of firms on MyLaw Resources, Clerkship.
There are three broad categories of questions:
See MyLaw Student Resources for more interview tips, including sample behavioural questions and about psychometric testing.
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