Legal professional bodies play a vital role in standardising legal practice, representing the legal profession, and providing support to members of the legal community. Federal examples include the Law Council of Australia, which represents the Australian legal profession on national and international matters, and the Australian Bar Association, which represents Australia’s almost 6,000 barristers.
Individual states and territories have their own law societies, which perform numerous functions including regulating the legal profession, while providing its members with guidance, support, and representation. Other professional bodies include the Australian Advocacy Initiative, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, the National Association of Community Legal Centres, and the Commercial Law Association of Australia.
Professional bodies are eager to attract talented graduates who are committed to the overall functionality and integrity of the legal system. However, the nature of their work – which can often involve providing guidance to experienced legal practitioners – means that few professional bodies oversee their own graduate recruitment programs. Instead, interested graduates are advised to check the job boards of individual professional bodies to see if there are any suitable positions available.
Typically, positions within professional bodies require applicants to possess a Bachelor degree (as a minimum), a postgraduate qualification (these are usually listed as ‘desirable’, not mandatory), and 2-3 years of experience in legal practice and/or legal policy work.
As an employee at a professional association, you’ll be tasked with helping to regulate, support and improve the work of the professionals you represent. Sometimes this support can take surprising forms. For example, the New South Wales Bar Association does more than accredit barristers through the bar examination; it also advises on professional indemnity insurance products, and even dedicates a section of its website to explaining the attire deemed most appropriate for different occasions (here, the options for barristers are a robe or a wig, or both, or neither).
Many professional association employees are called upon to provide guidance to association members. For example, the Law Society of New South Wales, among many things, advises solicitors on how best to meet their professional development requirements. Other employees work on drafting policy submissions designed to affect changes that benefit both solicitors and the communities they serve. As a lawyer, you may find yourself helping to update codes of conduct, or representing your profession in relevant trials and public discussions.
Ultimately, the range of professional associations, as well as the range of potential careers within them, means that your work may involve any number of different tasks and opportunities. The common theme, however, is that you will be working to regulate, guide, support, or advocate for members of a specific profession.
Professional associations offer a range of opportunities for internal career advancement. You can seek out novel responsibilities and move into more senior positions, both at the state and federal level, or try out something new – policy drafting, say, instead of accreditation oversight. Finally, working for a professional association is an excellent way to develop a network of contacts. This puts you in a strong position if you ultimately decided to build your career elsewhere.