Your Future Career as a Lawyer in Private Practice
It is perhaps most common for law graduates to start their careers within private practice. Private practice, also known as professional practice is where you are employed by a law firm where clients engage you to provide legal services. While there are many career paths in law, notably the most common alternative is ‘In-House’ where you are employed by a private/public company or government department as legal counsel where you provide legal advice and services to internal stakeholders within the organisation.
Almost 75% of solicitors choose to work in private practice which are privately-owned law firms. This choice of legal career offers many opportunities, such as various practice areas of legal specialisation.
For example, you might handle litigation cases and work in trials, appeals, mediation cases or arbitration. Alternatively, you may involve yourself in transactional work that includes deal negotiations, overseeing mergers and take-overs, managing license agreements, and looking after the sale and purchase within the real estate sector. Yet another career path could be to consider an advisory role within different practice areas such as corporate, environment and planning or banking and finance.
What to expect in private practice?
Historically, private practice legal roles include higher remuneration compared to in-house or public sector legal roles. As a law graduate you will find private practice to include varied and challenging work, and yet long term to be quite lucrative.
As a newly admitted lawyer, often with little or no practical legal experience, you will most likely find your first legal role as a law clerk or graduate lawyer. Sitting above you will be the senior legal team comprising of lawyers, associates, senior associates, special counsel and partners. Through time, experience and with a focus on quality work and client service you will soon climb into more senior positions.
What it takes
If you start off your legal career at a smaller private practice, you will likely have the opportunity to work across a range of different practice areas, gaining great hands on experience. Many of the smaller or ‘Boutique’ law firms, also known as generalist law firms offer legal services across practice areas such as commercial and property, family, civil disputes and debt recovery. There are also specialist law firms that specialise in just one practice area of law such as employment or family.
Alternatively, by joining a larger mid-tier or top-tier legal firm, you will most likely be assigned to work within a specific practice area comprised of its own practice group (legal team). However certain mid-tier and top-tier law firms will require you to apply and join through their graduate entry programs. During these graduate programs, their graduate lawyers are rotated through different practice areas over a period of around 2 years’. This is done so their graduates can gain experience within a range of common practice area’s allowing them to decide which practice area they would ideally like to specialise in.
No matter which law firm you decide to join, you will be given targets of billable hours and will have to record the minutes that you spend with your clients. Billable hours exclude administrative responsibility and breaks and depending on the size and work-culture of the law firm, may range from 5 to 8 hours daily. Many firms are now opting to quote and charge fixed pricing on matters; however, you will still be required to complete a matter within a certain and allocated period of time.
How will your career grow?
After completing your practical legal training and gaining admission to practice by the Court you will most likely start as a Graduate Lawyer. Starting salaries will vary depending on the size of the firm and practice area. Your previous experience (such as clerk or paralegal experience) will also be taken into consideration in some cases.
Most firms have different hierarchical structures. As a rule, you will be employed as a Graduate Lawyer for the first 2 years’, once you become an unrestricted lawyer you will most likely advance to Associate and then to Senior Associate. The more senior levels include Special Counsel and Partner.
Types of Legal Roles (Fee Earners)
- Graduate Lawyer (0 to 2 years’ experience)
Starting Salary – approximately $65,000 to $70,000 p.a
- Associate (2 to 5 years’ experience)
Salary approximately $75,000 to $100,000 p.a
- Senior Associate (5+ years‘ experience)
Salary approximately $100,000 to $150,000 p.a
- Special Counsel (10+ years’ experience)
Salary approximately $150,000 to $200,000 p.a
- Partner (10+ years’ experience)
Salary approximately $200,000+