How to Become a Barrister in NSW

The process of becoming a barrister in NSW is a lot like competing in a marathon. The race is long and gruelling and requires a certain degree of mental acuity. After graduating from law school, and just when you might think the worst of your legal training days are behind you, the biggest hurdle emerges to challenge your resolve to finish. While your law degree is an essential building block in your legal pre-training, it ultimately serves as a mental warm-up to the main event of your legal career by teaching you where to access the right information when you need it. 

If your chosen career path is to work as a barrister in NSW, there are a few final steps required to complete your legal training. You not only need to be admitted to the Supreme Court of your State or Territory but also satisfy the requirements of the NSW Bar Association.

From The Starting Blocks - Admission To The Supreme Court Of NSW

To be admitted to the Supreme Court of NSW, you must first apply to the NSW Legal Profession Admission Board for a compliance certificate. For the board to be satisfied with your eligibility for admission, you must satisfy certain requirements that are outlined in the Legal Profession Admission Board guide for applicants. 

These requirements include:

  • completing the appropriate application form (Form 10, if you have never previously been admitted)
  • providing original evidence of your academic qualification in law 
  • providing original evidence of your completion of practical legal training
  • providing your original Australian National Police Certificate
  • reading the Disclosure Guidelines for Applicants for Admission to the Legal Profession
  • making a statement disclosing any matter which may affect the Board’s assessment of whether you are a fit and proper person to be admitted to the Australian legal profession, and attach relevant documentation
  • providing two character references which are made by statutory declaration. These must be made by people who have known you for at least two years; and are not related to you by blood, marriage or as a domestic partner. 
  • signing the statutory declaration on the admission application form in the presence of an authorised witness
  • paying the prescribed application fee (currently $900).

Pro Tip: It is a worthwhile exercise to ask an experienced lawyer to look over your application before lodging. Small, and seemingly insignificant, details (such as whether affidavits have been witnessed by someone authorised to do so, are dated correctly or whether your documents are required to be stapled or clipped) can all trip up your application and impact whether it is successful on your first attempt or require revision.

If your application is approved, the board will notify you of the date and time of your admission ceremony, which you must attend to be admitted. At this point, you need to track down someone currently on the role of lawyers in NSW to ‘move’ your admission. They do not need to hold a practising certificate and they can be an Australian legal practitioner who holds a practising certificate in any state or territory. 

Your moving counsel’s role is to coach you through your admission ceremony. When your name is called by the Chief Justice, your moving counsel stands and recites the following words “May it please the court, I move that [insert your name] be admitted as a lawyer of this honourable court.”  If you personally know your moving counsel - as a friend, partner or family member - they may add a personal touch by moving that ‘my daughter’ or ‘my good friend’ be admitted as a lawyer of this honourable court. This often adds a lovely sense of levity to admission ceremonies. You will need to take an oath or swear an affirmation and sign the Role of Lawyers. 

Once you are admitted to practice as a lawyer in NSW, you may apply for an Australian practising certificate. This entitles you to engage in legal practice in Australia. If you wish to practice as a solicitor, you need to apply to the Law Society of NSW. 

The Final Sprint - Becoming A Barrister In NSW 

To practice as a barrister, you will need to apply to the NSW Bar Association for a practising certificate. Practising as a barrister requires many of the same specialist skills of an elite athlete: mental fortitude, physical endurance and emotional intelligence. You must be able to exercise strong communication and advocacy skills, sound judgement and the capacity to work effectively under high pressure.

The main prerequisites to practice as a barrister in NSW, include:

  • holding an Australian law degree;
  • being admitted to practice to the Supreme Court of NSW (or another Australian State or Territory under corresponding law);
  • passing the NSW Bar Examination to the required standard of 75%
  • completing an application for an Australian practising certificate from the NSW bar association;
  • when issued with an initial practising certificate with reader conditions, completing the NSW Bar Association’s ‘Reading Programme’ for not less than 12 months, which involves the Bar Practice Course and reading with a tutor.

Key Takeaways

In law school, nobody tells you that your years of sweat and toil as an undergraduate are merely the training ground for what becomes a career of continuous learning. Just like running one race does not make you a professional athlete, getting a law degree does not make you a lawyer. It takes years of perseverance, experience, dedication and trial and error to make a skilled legal practitioner. 

If you wish to pursue the life of a practising barrister in NSW, the real measure of your strength and endurance begins when you pass the bar. You’ve already done all the groundwork; now you just need to use that training to get yourself in the race. Good luck! 

This guest post is by Sarah Lynch. Sarah is a Barrister & Solicitor and founder of BucketOrange Magazine - Australia’s only indie law and life hacks magazine for millennials. You can connect with her on LinkedIn