So you’ve either just graduated or have been practising for a while, but the everyday humdrum of being a lawyer in Australia is starting to wear a little thin. Perhaps you want to head for greener and more lucrative pastures, or move closer to other parts of the world, or just get away for a change.
So how does an Australian lawyer get admitted to practise overseas? For countries that are based upon the British ‘Westminster’ model, it may not be as hard as you think.
Once you have a valid visa, these are the steps you can take to launch an international legal career.
Section 14 of New Zealand’s Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997 makes it easy to jump across Tasman and enter the land of many sheep, great pinot noir and gorgeous scenery.
The Act means that if you are registered to practise in Australia, you can also practise in New Zealand.
So once you are admitted in Australia, just get registered by the relevant court in New Zealand – and you won’t need to be re-admitted in NZ. The good news? No more study.
Incidentally, an equivaent Australian law makes the jump from NZ to Oz just as easy.
England and Wales
To get admitted in England and Wales, you have to go through the Qualified Solicitors Training Scheme (QLTS).
This involves a two-part assessment. The first is a multiple choice test, and the second is a practical exam on advocacy, legal research and interviewing skills. To take the test, you have to be admitted as a lawyer in Australia.
There is another, lengthier route which is the ‘Legal Practice Course’. Once you do this course, you then need to complete 2 years of practical training before you are admitted as a solicitor.
Being admitted in Singapore is slightly more complicated. You’ll need to pass a bar exam – but before that, you have to be: (1) a qualified person, and (2) a permanent resident.
Being a qualified person means graduating in the top 70% of your class from one of the following ten approved Australian universities:
1. Australian National University
2. Flinders University
3. Monash University
4. Murdoch University
5. University of Melbourne
6. University of New South Wales
7. University of Queensland
8. University of Sydney
9. University of Tasmania
10. University of Western Australia
If you obtained your degree from another university, you will need to apply for an exemption to this rule. You will then need to undertake 6 months of legal experience.
Once you pass the bar exam, you will need to undertake a 5-month training course in Singaporean law, and finally a 6-month training contract with a law firm.
There is one notable exception to all of this: if you have over three years’ of experience as a lawyer, you can just take the Foreign Practitioner Exam, and then – boom! – you’re admitted.
So it may be worth working in Australia for a few years before making the move to our north-western neighbour.
Lawyers from any jurisdiction sit for the Overseas Qualified Lawyers Examination. Once you pass, you’ll need to enter a three-month residency agreement. You’ll have a better chance if you already have 2 years experience as a lawyer.
Alternatively, you can register as a Foreign Lawyer with Hong Kong’s Law Society. As a registered foreign lawyer, you will not be able to practise Hong Kong law, but you will be entitled to work as a foreign legal consultant for a Hong Kong law firm.
Getting admitted in Canada can be a little tricky for Australian lawyers.
You will need to have your qualifications evaluated by the National Committee on Accreditation in order to get a “certificate of qualification”.
The Committee may require you sit exams on Canadian law. You may even have to complete additional courses at a Canadian law school – which are usually J.D. programs.
There are four exams, which cover subjects like constitutional, administrative and criminal law.
There are also additional requirements for each province, and you will have to undertake an articling program. You may need to do less time in this program if you have experience as a lawyer in Australia.
You will need to pass a bar exam to practise as an ‘attorney’ (lawyer) in the United States.
The exam is different in every state, and the difficulty level also varies. The California state bar exam is widely regarded as the hardest to pass. That exam comprises a gruelling 18 hours of testing over three days.
In order to even sit the exam, you have to show your degree is equivalent to a J.D. awarded by the American Bar Association, and do one year of study at an eligible law school before taking the bar.
So is it really worth it?
No matter where you practise, it’s a challenge to get admitted and then find a job.
But it seems like it’s getting easier for Australian lawyers to have an international career. With some persistence, it is quite possible to be admitted in a number of other countries – just be prepared for a bit (or a lot) of extra study and exams.