Careers advice

How to become a solicitor in NZ

Let’s build a case for success.

Last updated: 23 April 2024

If you're considering a career as a solicitor, you're stepping into a challenging yet rewarding field. Solicitoring is a broad field, which includes everything from commercial law to property law to criminal law and much, much more.

This wide-ranging scope means that you have the opportunity to follow the parts of the law that interest you most, including meaningful specialities like family law and immigration law.

However, before you get to specialise, you’ll need to become a solicitor in the first place. In this article, we'll provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to navigate this process, and look at how this profession differs from other common legal jobs you’ll see advertised in Aotearoa NZ.

What is a solicitor?

First and foremost, a solicitor is a trusted legal advisor to their clients, whomever that may be. You'll play a crucial role in helping clients navigate legal challenges, make informed decisions, and safeguard their rights and interests. Whether it's drafting contracts, advising on property transactions, or assisting with estate planning, you will offer personalised advice tailored to each client's needs and circumstances.

You'll also serve as a powerful advocate for your clients to ensure their voices are heard and their rights are upheld. Whether you're negotiating settlements, representing clients in court, or mediating family disputes, your advocacy skills will be instrumental in achieving favourable outcomes and delivering justice for the people you represent.

One of the real benefits of working as a solicitor in NZ is that you'll have the opportunity to specialise in areas of law that align with your interests and passions. For example, if you’re passionate about reducing family violence and harm, you might consider working in family law, where you can help the victims of these crimes assert their rights and remove themselves from dangerous situations.

Being a solicitor can be a highly rewarding career, even if the work is tough.

How to become a solicitor

There are four basic steps you’ll need to follow in order to qualify as a lawyer in NZ:

1. Get your degree

To embark on your journey to becoming a lawyer, you will need a law degree: either a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or a Bachelor of Laws with Honours (LLB (Hons)). You can pursue an LLB from several reputable universities in New Zealand, including Auckland, AUT, Waikato, Victoria University of Wellington, Canterbury, or Otago. An LLB normally requires four years of full-time study.

2. Complete your ‘profs’

To become a fully qualified lawyer, you'll need to undertake the practical course, often referred to as 'profs'. This course can be pursued through either the College of Law or the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS). Once you’ve completed this, you'll be admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand.

Profs isn't just another academic hurdle; it's a practical training program designed to equip you with the skills needed for the legal profession. Many find that completing this course during the initial months of employment helps smooth the transition into the workplace. Some firms even cover the cost of the course for their employees, recognizing its importance. Be prepared – profs is known for its intensity but the good news is that you'll still be considered a student for Studylink purposes while undertaking it.

Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of study involved in becoming a solicitor.

3. Certificate of Completion & Character

Next, you’ll have to get a certification of fulfilment from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education. This authenticates the completion of both your academic studies and profs.

Additionally, you must procure a character certification from the New Zealand Law Society, affirming your status as a "suitable and upright individual" for admission as a barrister and solicitor. Prompt submission of the appropriate documentation is important, as processing times for this paperwork can be up to four months. You'll be required to provide three references, one from your employer and the others not to come from familial connections or academic instructors.

4. Bar admission

The ultimate step involves your induction into the Registry of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand. This involves a formal ceremony held at your local High Court, where adherence to traditional court attire, or a gown layered over smart attire, is required. And yep, this may include THE wig!

For the ceremony, you'll need a practising lawyer to endorse and sponsor your admission. While sharing this momentous occasion with a friend, family member, or colleague with a practising certificate is ideal, the Law Society will make arrangements if you lack a personal connection. At the ceremony's culmination, you'll sign the Roll!

Subsequently, you'll be presented with a practising certificate by the New Zealand Law Society, meaning that you’re officially a lawyer – Ka pai!

Can you picture yourself in THE wig?

Differences between solicitors and barristers

You’ll find a wide selection of different legal jobs on Trade Me Jobs, with most of them pretty easy to distinguish from each other. But, for whatever reason, people always seem to confuse barristers and solicitors in terms of the core roles they play. So, let’s clear this up, once and for all.

Let's start with solicitors. As we’ve explored, solicitors are usually a client’s first point of contact when they're facing a legal issue. Solicitors provide a wide range of legal services, from drafting contracts and giving legal advice to representing clients in court proceedings. They're the ones who'll sit down with clients, listen to their concerns, and offer practical solutions tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.

On the other hand, barristers are the ones you’ll see in courtroom dramas. They argue cases in court, armed with their expertise in legal argument and persuasive skills. Barristers typically specialise in courtroom advocacy, representing clients in trials, hearings, and appeals. They're the ones who'll stand before the judge and jury, presenting cases with eloquence and precision to secure the best possible outcome.

One of the main differences between solicitors and barristers lies in their training and qualifications. Solicitors undergo a broader training, encompassing various areas of law and practical skills needed for day-to-day legal practice. They handle a diverse range of legal matters and have direct contact with clients. On the other hand, barristers undergo specialised training focused on courtroom advocacy and legal argumentation. They typically receive instructions from solicitors to represent clients in court proceedings, providing expert legal representation in litigation matters.

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Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.