There are many benefits to becoming a lawyer in Australia. Lawyers have the opportunity to help clients resolve legal matters, they have a variety of specialised legal areas to choose from, and a lawyer has the potential to earn a good income. However, certain factors influence the earning potential of a lawyer, and it is important to consider these factors to find out “how much does a lawyer earn in Australia?”.
There are several terms to describe legal practitioners in New South Wales and Australia. The three most common terms are lawyer, solicitor, and barrister. However, there is sometimes confusion as to the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor, and a barrister.
The term lawyer is a general term to describe all New South Wales legal professionals qualified to provide legal advice. A lawyer has a certificate to practice law. The term “lawyer” refers to both solicitors and barristers, and it also includes Judges and Corporate Counsel.
Lawyers in general, earn a good salary in Australia. The average salaries based on the average income of lawyers across all the areas of law may range from $100,000 to $185,000, with the entry-level for junior lawyers starting at a salary scale from about $70,000. Some lawyers earn far more than the average salary range, depending on education, experience, type of law, and reputation.
Lawyers are also paid significantly better than most other jobs and rank 7th on the list of the highest-paid jobs in Australia, with an average income of about $188,000 per annum.
In New South Wales solicitors do not usually appear in Court. NSW Barristers also usually practice independently. Solicitors and barristers in NSW are also members of separate professional societies. Barristers are members of the NSW Bar Association, and solicitors are members of the NSW Law Society. A lawyer cannot be a member of both societies, and they must exclusively practice as a solicitor or a barrister.
Solicitors are instrumental at every step before the trial, they prepare claims, affidavits, and correspondence, and barristers are vital when a legal matter goes to trial. Solicitors and barristers are lawyers even though their roles are different in the legal system. There is some natural overlap in their roles as members of the legal profession, but there is also some key difference between the two professions.
A solicitor is a lawyer with a practising certificate, but they are not a Barrister or a Judge. A solicitor or a lawyer provides general legal advice on a matter and they are involved in the day-to-day management of a case. A barrister is a lawyer who has passed the “Bar” examination in their state, they have studied the bar course and they have undertaken their readership with a senior barrister. A barrister appears in court to advocate for their clients, but they are retained by a solicitor. A barrister is a type of lawyer, just like a solicitor, but a lawyer is not always a barrister.
Solicitors and barristers can also be employed by a law firm. However, barristers are often self-employed or belong to a chamber or a group of barristers and they do not always earn a salary. Barristers might be employed by organisations such as Public Defenders or the Director of Public Prosecutions. A barrister’s salary in NSW is about $190,000.
There is, however a significant gender pay gap amongst barristers. Female barristers earn an average annual income of about $70,000, with their male counterparts earning top dollar at about AU$190,000 and more. These figures are the highest noticeable gender gap in Australia.
Senior Counsel or King’s Counsel in Australia is highly sought after, and they have high earning potential. However, remuneration differs and can range from anything between AU$115,000 to way over the AU$200,000 mark.
An Associate lawyer with four to nine years of experience earns on average about AU$117,900 and with twenty years of experience earns on average about AU$193,400. A Senior Associate Lawyer with ten to twenty years of experience earns on average about AU$164,500 per year.
Law firm partners have high earning potential depending on the size of the firm and the partner’s equity stake in the firm. There are equity or non-equity partners in a firm.
Equity partners buy an ownership stake in the firm and their income comes from dividing up the profits. Equity partners make a lot more money than non-equity partners; however, this comes with responsibilities, risks, and business development pressures. Some equity partners own a lot more of the firm and thus have more control. Some firms share profits equally among partners, but more and more firms are dividing profits based on merit.
Non-equity partners do not own a stake in the firm or any income from the profits. Non-equity partners earn a salary and they are also known as salaried partners. Non-equity partners do not give any input in how the firm is run. Instead, they use the partner title and avoid the risks and responsibilities in the business. A lawyer can remain a non-equity partner for up to three years, and then they will be promoted to equity partner.
Partners will earn a base salary, bonuses, and a share in the profits. Equity partners can earn over AU$1 million and salaried partners can earn between or more than AU$240,000 to AU$400,000 in Sydney, AU$250,000 to AU$350,000 in Melbourne, and AU$200,000 to AU$300,000 in Brisbane.
The average lawyer in Australia earns around AU$115,000 per year. Several factors influence the earning potential or how much a lawyer earns in Australia. These factors are:
· The experience of the lawyer
· The reputation of the lawyer
· The location of the organisation or law firm
· The size of the organisation or law firm
· Government, In-house lawyers, or private practice
· The types of law
Experience is important and it has a huge influence on a lawyer’s salary. Lawyers with more than three years of experience can earn anything from AU$100,000 or more per year. Lawyers with two years or less experience can expect to be paid anything from AU$50,000 or more per year.
A junior corporate lawyer for instance can earn an average starting salary of AU$70,000 and the most experienced corporate lawyer can earn up to or more than AU$200,000.
A lawyer with a good reputation will attract more clients, receive more work and earn higher salaries. A good reputation is important in this competitive working environment and a lawyer with a good reputation and track record will attract more business.
Location or where a lawyer practises law has a huge influence on a lawyer’s potential earnings per year. Law firms in different locations have different salary structures for example larger law firms in the cities versus law firms in smaller towns or law firms in different States and Territories. Sydney in New South Wales has the highest-paying lawyers in Australia, followed by Melbourne and Brisbane.
A corporate or criminal defense lawyers working for a larger firm in a major city will also earn more than a corporate or experienced criminal lawyers in a small town.
The size of an organisation can also play a role. Big corporate law firms usually have offices across the country and internationally and this increase the top-earning potential of corporate lawyers. General Counsel for global organisations can also potentially earn between AU$285,000 and AU$440,000 and General Counsel with multi-jurisdictional coverage can potentially expect an annual salary between AU$750,000 to AU$1 million per year.
A lawyer can work as a:
· Government lawyer
· In-house lawyers
· Private practice
A government lawyer works in a particular branch of government. All government agencies in NSW have lawyers. A Crown lawyer is a legal advisor to the NSW Government. They give legal advice to the government agency where they work. A government lawyer is a public servant and cannot represent a member of the public. Lawyers who work for the government earn around AU$94,000.
In-house lawyers work for an employer and provide legal advice and carry out legal work. They cannot represent a member of the public and do not work in a law firm or private practice. The salary for someone working as an in-house lawyer is around AU$128,000.
Private practice is the largest legal sector in NSW and more than 70% of solicitors work in private practice. Private practice lawyers are generally self-employed. Members of the public can contact and hire private practitioners to assist them with legal matters. A private practitioner specialises in a particular field of law. A lawyer falls in a higher salary range in private practice.
Lawyers choose a practice area once they have completed their law degree. There are many practice areas or types of law in which a lawyer can specialise. The lawyers in these specialised practice areas have different roles within the different legislation and laws, and sometimes there might also be an overlap between the different types of laws.
A lawyer’s salary is likely to be affected by the specialisation they choose as well as the location of the practice or organisation. For example, a lawyer’s salary will be higher if a lawyer specialises in corporate law and work for a large corporation in the city as opposed to a specialisation in personal injury in a smaller town.
The specialised practice areas are a factor in the earning potential of a lawyer in Australia. There are 14 types of law in Australia. Some of these specialised practice areas are:
· Family Law
· Criminal Law
· Human Rights Law
· Tax Law
· Corporate and Commercial Law
· Advocacy and Litigation Law
· Immigration Law
Lawyers in these specialised practice areas earn above-average salaries. Family Lawyers in Australia earn on average around AU $68 993, with a junior family lawyer earning about AU $52,000 and the top 10% of family lawyers earning an average annual salary of AU $133,000.
A junior criminal defence lawyer earns on average, around AU$45,000, and more experienced lawyers can make more than AU$150,000. The average salary for a criminal defence lawyer is about AU$72,000. If a lawyer achieves the title of an accredited specialist in criminal law, their salary will increase exponentially. Criminal defence lawyers earn more in Sydney than in other States, and as such the average criminal lawyer’s salary can vary significantly in Australia.
The average human rights lawyer in Australia will earn about AU$62,000, and this lawyer will earn about AU$54,500 when they start their career. At a more senior level, human rights lawyers can expect to earn well over AU$100,000. Human rights lawyers might have to travel overseas and spend months, sometimes years, away from home working in other countries. This might earn a human rights lawyer a significant pay rise.
A junior-level tax lawyer with one to three years of experience earns an average salary of AU$136,000. A senior-level tax lawyer with eight or more years of experience earns an average salary of AU$247,554.
According to recruitment firms, law firms in Australia will have to pay high salaries to attract and retain young lawyers. Australian lawyers are in demand in-house, locally, and internationally. The pandemic shifted views towards life, and work and lawyers want more flexibility and personal control over their working schedules as well as the salaries they earn.
First-year lawyers can expect to earn at least AU $100,000 to AU $115,000 at top-tier and international firms in Sydney. Lawyers in the UK and the USA pay even higher salaries to first-year lawyers. Young Australian lawyers departed the country over the last year to join these firms for the higher remuneration in these countries. Law firms will have to focus on work/life synergy and an attractive salary package to find and retain younger lawyers.
Lyons Law Group is a top criminal law firm in Sydney with outstanding solicitors and barristers. Contact us for professional legal assistance.