A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Legal Training (PLT)

In addition to obtaining a law degree, a graduate who wishes to practice as a solicitor in Australia must complete practical legal training.
Katherine Lau
Katherine Lau
Team GradAustralia
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Image credit: Leo Cussen Centre for Law

While a law degree provides a theoretical understanding of the law, practical legal training provides law graduates with the requisite knowledge and skills to perform the day-to-day tasks of a legal practitioner. An approved practical legal training course or program must adhere to the Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers (the 'Standards'). These were developed by the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council ('APLEC') and the Law Admissions Consultative Committee ('LACC').

The Standards cover three key domains: skills, practice areas, and values (see below). Each domain includes subjects that the APLEC and LACC have agreed constitute essential knowledge for all lawyers.

Types of Practical Legal Training

In Australia there are three types of practical legal training available to law graduates: a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, a 'supervised legal training' program, and an 'articles of clerkship' program.

The type of practical legal training a law graduate chooses to undertake depends largely on the admission requirements of the state or territory in which he or she wishes to be admitted. For example, Western Australia is the only state in which an articles of clerkship is accepted as a valid alternative to a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Similarly, Victoria and Queensland permit law graduates to complete a supervised legal training program in lieu of a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. All other states and territories require law graduates to obtain a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice before qualifying for admission.

Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice

A Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice ('GDLP') is offered by various legal education institutions across Australia. While teaching methods vary from institution to institution, students can expect course content to be reasonably consistent.

A GDLP comprises a 'formal coursework' component and a 'work experience' component (otherwise known as a legal placement). Students enrolled in a GDLP are required to complete a number of subjects that are subject to assessment. They also must undertake a fixed period of work experience in an environment that allows them to see how the law operates in practice

NB: A GDLP may be commenced prior to completion of a law degree. However, students must have completed all mandatory law courses (and be enrolled in their final two elective subjects. More information about this provision can be found by contacting the relevant legal admission authority in each state and territory.

Where Can I Study a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice?

  • Australian National University Legal Workshop
  • Bond University
  • Leo Cussen Centre for Law
  • Queensland University of Technology
  • The College of Law
  • The University of Adelaide
  • University of Tasmania, Centre for Legal Studies
  • University of Technology Sydney

Supervised Legal Training

Law graduates who wish to practice in Victoria and Queensland may decide to undertake a supervised legal training program instead of a GDLP. A variation of the articles of clerkship, a supervised legal training program allows graduates to learn the subjects required by the Standards by participating in a supervised placement.

Law graduates interested in taking this path should check the requirements of the Victorian Legal Admissions Board or the Queensland Legal Practitioners Admission. Both states generally require graduates to register their training program prior to commencing it.

Articles of Clerkship

The articles of clerkship is a form of practical legal training better known to senior legal practitioners. However, it remains an approved form of practical legal training in Western Australia. Not dissimilar to a supervised legal training program, law graduates choosing to opt for this alternative work with their placement supervisor to fulfil the requirements set out in the Standards. An articles of clerkship is ideal for a law graduate who has already secured a legal placement. Be aware that this accreditation is increasingly uncommon, with the Western Australian Legal Practice Board receiving around 50 applications each year.

FAQs

1.    I am having trouble securing a placement. What can I do?

There are a number of online resources that cater specifically to law graduates looking for practical legal training placement. The 'Jobs' page on the College of Law website includes a list of placement positions from all over Australia for graduates looking to fulfil their placement requirements for practical legal training. The Beyond Law Job Hub is a similar online platform where law graduates can find placement positions. Placement positions listed on these sites may be temporary or ongoing and, paid or unpaid. It is important to check the position description to make sure it is the right fit for you.

Online job sites such as SEEK and Indeed are other potential sources for placement positions however it may take more time sifting through advertisements to find a suitable position as practical placement ads are not as easy to locate on these sites. You can also refer to other online resources such as legal vitae and gradaustralia.com.au.

Remember to take advantage of access to your university's online job board. You may also wish to approach your university's careers service for advice on how to secure a placement that is right for you.

2.    Can I be admitted to practice as a lawyer before completing Practical Experience?

No. The legislative frameworks governing admission in each state and territory stipulate that a person must complete practical legal training before they can be admitted to practice as a lawyer in Australia.

3.    Can I undertake work experience at more than one location and/or with more than one supervisor?

You may undertake work experience at more than one location, and with more than one supervisor, provided that each placement satisfies the rules relating to the work experience component of practical legal training. Rules concerning work experience vary slightly between each state and territory, however there is often a minimum number of days that graduates must spend gaining supervised work experience at a place that provides legal services.

Graduates who have prior experience working in a law firm, in a community legal center, with a barrister, or in a court, may apply to have that experience recognised as contributing to their practical legal training.

4.    How long after finishing my law degree or equivalent qualification do I have to complete PLT?

There is no time limit as to when a law graduate may commence practical legal training after obtaining their law degree.

5.    I have just completed my practical legal training. Is there a time limit to when I can seek admission to the legal profession?

There is no time limit as to when a person can seek admission to the legal profession after completing their practical legal training. However, if you have not been admitted as a solicitor within five years of completing your practical legal training, you must disclose this to the relevant admissions authority, which will assess your application and advise on whether or not you require further legal training.

6.    Are there assessments?

Yes. The manner and form of the assessments will depend on the type of practical legal training you choose to undertake, and the practical legal training provider you choose to study with.

7.    Can I undertake work experience outside my home state?

Yes. You may complete your work experience or placement in a state or territory that is different to the one in which you wish to be admitted as a solicitor, or the one in which you choose to practice law. However, you should ensure that the training you undertake fulfils the admission requirements of the state in which you intend to practice.  

8.    Can I study a GDLP online?

Most institutions that offer the GDLP allow students to choose between face-to-face and online courses. Students can also choose to take on a full-time study load or a part-time study load. A full-time study load can be completed in 6 months. Part-time students can expect to finish the course within 12 months.

9.    Do I have to pay for my practical legal training?

Some law firms may offer to pay for your practical legal training as part of their graduate program, or as a condition of your placement. However, law graduates will generally have to cover the cost of practical legal training themselves. The cost of practical legal training will vary between programs and institutions.