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How to Become a Family Lawyer in Australia

Published on January 26, 2024

    About the Author

    Mia Zitzlaff

    Mia began her career in law working at a boutique firm in Mornington, VIC as a Legal Assistant. There, she gained extensive experience in a range of family law and wills and estates matters, before becoming a lawyer in August 2022.

    Mia began her career in law working at a boutique firm in Mornington, VIC as a Legal Assistant. Ther... Read More

    Mia Zitzlaff


    Key Takeaways

    • Family lawyers specialise in areas affecting families such as divorce and child custody, and sometimes collaborate with other professionals like mediators, psychologists, and social workers to provide comprehensive support.
    • To become a family lawyer in Australia, you must complete an undergraduate degree, proceed with either a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or Juris Doctor (JD), followed by Practical Legal Training (PLT), and obtain a practising certificate.
    • Successful family lawyers need a mixture of strong educational background, practical experience, and key personal skills such as excellent communication, empathy, and problem-solving abilities.

    A career in family law can be highly rewarding both professionally and personally. There are many ways you can develop your career and also help many people along the way. But before you can work as a family lawyer, you need to know how to become a family lawyer in Australia and we’ve put together a practical guide walking you through the steps you need to take.

    From educational prerequisites, gaining hands-on legal experience, to finally acquiring your practicing certificate, we’ll cover what it really takes to jumpstart your family law career, focusing on essential qualifications, the depth of on-the-job training, and the critical skills needed to thrive in this challenging yet fulfilling field. But first, what does a family lawyer Australia do?


    What do family lawyers do?

    Family lawyers are legal experts specialising in areas of law that directly impact families. Their expertise primarily includes divorce, child custody, property settlements and financial agreements and how the law intersects with these matters. This expertise equips them to handle the legal complexities that can arise in situations where a family relationship has broken down, as well as those that may arise at the union of two or more people.

    Besides managing legal matters related to these situations, they also play a pivotal role in crisis management during times of trauma, such as relationship breakdowns, by providing essential emotional support, helping clients make clear decisions as well as navigate the legal process with less stress.

    Family lawyers offer client-focused services and collaborate with specialists in various fields to ensure the best possible legal outcomes for their clients. This collaborative approach extends beyond the courtroom, where it’s common for a family lawyer to team up with mediators, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals to provide comprehensive support to their clients.

    In addition to the above, a family lawyer will also have similar responsibilities to other types of lawyers, such as preparing documents like court applications and contracts, as well as attend Court for various matters too. As a family lawyer’s role is very multifaceted, it’s possible for a family lawyer to earn an impressive salary.

    Specialisation in family law

    Educational pathways to becoming a family lawyer

    A career in family law demands a dedication to education, with the usual route to becoming a family lawyer in Australia requiring the completion of an undergraduate degree, progressing with a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor, and ultimately getting a practicing certificate. Each of these steps is crucial in equipping you with the knowledge and skills you need to practice law effectively and ethically.

    Below, we’ve summarised each of the main steps required to become a family lawyer.

    Undergraduate degree

    The first step towards becoming a family lawyer is acquiring an undergraduate degree. This is the initial step in pursuing a career in family law. In Australia, aspiring family lawyers typically begin with an undergraduate Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. However, law is not the only field of study you can pursue at the undergraduate level. The LLB degree can be combined with other fields of study such as:

    • arts
    • commerce
    • politics
    • science
    • engineering

    This offers a broader educational base, allowing students to conduct their own research and discover the areas that appeal to them.

    Undergraduate law programs usually include core legal subjects as well as elective courses that span diverse legal fields, including aspects of different types of law, like family law and criminal law.

    These programs are designed to equip students with foundational skills in professional ethics and critical thinking early in their education, often from a partner faculty before moving on to more focused law school studies.

    Furthering your education

    Depending on the type of undergraduate degree you complete, you may need to undertake further study. If your undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) your next step will be to undergo practical legal training (which we will discuss shortly). If you completed a different kind of undergraduate degree, then you will need to complete a Juris Doctor. A Juris Doctor is a postgraduate law degree designed for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another discipline or international law graduates.

    The JD is considered equivalent to a master’s degree in Australia and covers the same core law subjects as the LLB. Some students pursuing a JD often manage their studies alongside full-time work, making it a program that demands high academic standards. Law students in Australia also have the opportunity to engage in research, enrol in cross-institutional study, and even take master’s level units that may count towards an LLM degree, offering flexibility and advanced learning opportunities.

    Gaining real-world experience with Practical Legal Training

    Upon graduating with a law degree, it is necessary to complete Practical Legal Training (PLT) to advance towards becoming a family lawyer. The PLT, is a mandatory requirement for all aspiring lawyers in Australia, and this training can take various forms, like supervised legal training programs or articles of clerkship.

    Practical Legal Training includes both coursework and practical on the job experience, allowing graduates to gain essential work experience, observe the law in action and hone their legal skills before officially being able to practice law as a qualified lawyer.

    Most PLT courses take less than year to complete, and the time it takes will depend on whether you participate on a part time or full-time basis.

    After completing the PLT, you will be awarded a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice (GDLP). This means you will be eligible to apply for admission as a legal practitioner in your state or territory. Admission is granted through the authorisation of the Supreme Court of your state or territory.

    Obtaining a Practicing Certificate as a family lawyer

    Once you have been admitted to the legal profession, you will need to apply for a practising certificate from your local law society legal professional body. This certificate signifies that you have met all the requirements and are now officially recognised as a lawyer.

    Maintaining this recognition requires you to stay up to date with the latest developments in family law and continually refine your skills through educational opportunities like family lawyer courses. As a family lawyer, you will likely find yourself dealing with a wide range of complex and emotionally charged cases. Staying sharp and focused is therefore not just a requirement for maintaining your practising certificate, but also a necessity for serving your clients to the best of your abilities.

    Qualities and skills of a family lawyer

    Even though education and training are vital, they are not the sole components contributing to the success of a family lawyer. Specific personal qualities and skills play a significant role in determining a lawyer’s effectiveness and client satisfaction.

    Some of the most important skills for family lawyers include:

    • Communication: The ability to articulate complex legal terms and situations in a way that clients can understand is crucial. This includes both verbal and written communication. A family lawyer needs to be able to explain the legal process, potential outcomes, and other related matters in a clear and concise manner. In addition to being able to communicate the legal process clearly, they also need to be able communicate in an empathetic manner as many of the matters they deal with involve sensitive issues where people are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
    • Problem-solving: Family law often involves complex situations and difficult decisions. The ability to analyse these situations, consider all possible outcomes, and devise a strategy that will best serve the client is a key skill for any family lawyer. This involves not only knowledge of the law and the situation but also an element of creativity to find a fair outcome.
    • Creativity: As we touched on above, not all legal problems have straightforward solutions. Sometimes, a family lawyer needs to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions that meet the unique needs of their clients.
    • Fairness: Family law often involves sensitive issues that can be emotionally charged. A family lawyer needs to be able to remain impartial and fair, ensuring that all parties are treated with respect and that the law is upheld. Family law isn’t about making one person suffer, it’s about finding an outcome that works for all parties involved, and if that includes children, that their best interests are always prioritised.
    • Empathy: Family lawyers often work with clients who are going through difficult and stressful times. The ability to empathise with clients and understand their emotional state can help a lawyer provide better support and guidance.
    • Adaptability: Laws and legal procedures can change frequently. An effective family lawyer must be able to adapt to these changes and constantly update their knowledge and skills. Adaptability goes hand in hand with creativity, in that what works in one situation may not in another.

    These qualities not only help to strengthen your skills as a family lawyer but when it comes to someone knowing how to choose a family lawyer, these qualities can make a world of difference to a potential client.


    Building a career in family Law

    A career in family law can take many forms, from joining a renowned family law firm to taking the solo practitioner route. Each of these paths offers unique benefits and challenges, and your choice will depend on your personal and professional goals.

    Joining a renowned family law firm

    Initiating your career by joining a respected family law firm (or a firm that practises family law) can be a great choice. These firms often provide robust professional development opportunities, including formal learning and training programs, and financial support for further education.

    An established law firm with experienced colleagues can be extremely valuable for a family lawyer, especially one just starting out. You can draw on the wealth of experience of your colleagues and gain different perspectives, which is vital in a complex area of law like family law.

    Besides professional development, family law firms often offer various salary packaging options that can reduce your taxable income and enhance your net salary. Larger firms may also provide flexible work options and benefits like:

    • Flexible hours
    • Job sharing
    • Remote work
    • Paid parental leave

    These flexible options can be particularly beneficial for those seeking to balance their professional and personal lives, as well as those looking to enhance their skills through workplace training. Additional benefits may include an Employee Assistance Program, commuter club discounts, paid study leave, discounted health insurance, and free flu vaccinations.

    The solo practitioner route

    If you’re more inclined towards independence and entrepreneurship, the solo practitioner route might be a suitable choice. However, this route requires careful consideration of your personal strengths, financial situation, and family responsibilities. Detailed planning is essential, including creating a comprehensive business plan and budget.

    As a solo practitioner, it’s possible to enjoy flexibility and freedom, however, it’s more common for people to head this direction after experience in established law firms. Over time, you may find that you’re interested in working with others and developing your own legal practice and hiring other qualified family law professionals.

    Making a real difference as a family lawyer

    The role of a family lawyer extends beyond sorting out legal complexities; it involves making a tangible impact on people’s lives. One day you could be helping a client through a difficult divorce, the next you could be assisting with an adoption or surrogacy matter. Every day brings new opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of individuals and families.

    Becoming a family lawyer in Australia is a journey that requires dedication, rigorous education, and practical experience. Yet, the rewards of this profession are immense. Family lawyers play a vital role in society, and their work significantly impacts families and, by extension, the community as a whole.

    Whether you choose to join a renowned law firm or take the solo practitioner route, the profession of a family lawyer offers a fulfilling career path for those passionate about family law.

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