What is a Juris Doctor?

Thinking about switching into the legal field? If you already have a qualification, then you should consider studying a Juris Doctor. Here’s everything you need to know about this graduate-level course.

Someone in judge's robes holding a weight

What is a Juris Doctor in Australia?

A Juris Doctor is a one of the two main law degrees you can study if you would like to practice law in Australia. 

It’s a postgraduate degree that is designed for people who already have a bachelor degree in a non-law discipline. You can also study a Juris Doctor if you have a law degree from another country, but you would like to practice locally.    

Contrary to popular belief, a Juris Doctor is not a doctorate. In Australia, it’s equivalent to a masters degree. This means that graduates cannot use the title “doctor.”

So what’s the difference between a Bachelor of Laws vs a Juris Doctor?

Both a Bachelor of Laws and a Juris Doctor will prepare you for a career in law.  

However, a Bachelor of Laws is for those who want to study law straight after Year 12. A Juris Doctor is for those who already have a degree and want to shift into law. 

Both courses cover the same content, including the ‘Priestley 11’, core law subjects like administrative law, contracts and criminal law and procedures, that you must complete before you can apply for admission into legal practice. The main difference is that your lecturers will expect your work to be of a higher standard within the Juris Doctor, since you’ll be studying at a postgraduate level. It’s also common to study a Juris Doctor online, since students are more likely to already be working full-time. 

  Bachelor of Laws (LLB)  Juris Doctor (JD) 
Who should enrol?
  • High school graduates
  • Mature age students who don’t have a degree
  • Those who already have a non-law bachelor degree but would prefer to study law at an undergraduate level 
Those who already have a non-law bachelor degree
International students with an overseas law degree
How long is the course? It takes 3-4 years of full-time study or equivalent to earn an LLB.

You can also study this degree at a pace of your choosing online.
It takes 3 years of full-time study or equivalent to earn a JD.


You can also study this degree at a pace of your choosing online.

How do you get in?

There are several ways to gain entry:

 

  • With an appropriate ATAR (usually over 80)
  • With some previous TAFE or university study experience
  • Via single law subjects that don’t have any entry requirements. This unique enrolment option is available through Open Universities Australia. 
You must have a bachelor degree in an area other than law, and meet English language requirements.
How much does it cost? The average Bachelor of Laws can range from $43,000 to $62,000, depending on the uni you study with. A Juris Doctor can vary anywhere from $43,000 to $115,000, depending on the uni you study with.
Are course fees covered by HELP funding? Yes, eligible students can apply to defer their tuition fees through the Australian Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).  Yes, eligible students can apply to defer all or most of their tuition fees through the Australian Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). 

 

If your tuition fees exceed your available HELP loan limit (which is $113,028 in 2023 for most students), then you may be required to pay the remaining amount upfront. You can read more about that here.

What comes next? If you’d like to practice law, your next step is to complete 80 days of supervised Practical Legal Training (PLT). Alternately, you can complete a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice

What can you do with a Juris Doctor?

A Juris Doctor can open a world of opportunities for you in the legal field—and in other industries too. Here are some of the most popular career paths you can take with your qualification. 

Practice law

Many people of course earn a Juris Doctor because they want to practice law—as a lawyer, solicitor, barrister, or even eventually as a judge.

With your JD, you will satisfy the academic requirements needed for admission to practice. After graduating you’ll still need to complete some additional training known as Practical Legal Training (PLT) before you can apply for admission within your state or territory. You can do this by gaining work experience in a law firm or by earning a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.

As a law professional, you’ll work in your clients’ bests interests, guiding them on complex legal matters that impact their lives. It’s common to end up specialising in an aspect of law, like family law, environmental law or criminal law; and the Juris Doctor will give you a taste for these different areas. Some people even choose to pursue further study in their specialisation.  

Become a community advocate

Many Juris Doctor graduates use their knowledge of the legal system to push for change within a social justice or community support role.  

Matthew, a psychiatric nurse unit manager from Adelaide, decided to earn a Juris Doctor after noticing too many of his mental health patients had been through the prison system. He thought a law degree would help him better advocate for his patients’ rights inside—and outside—the hospital. 

"I see law and health as quite interwoven. They really impact each other,” he explains. “I felt that having a legal background would give me some clout in my career.” 

Work as an in-house legal specialist 

You can also use your Juris Doctor to provide legal advice within a corporate role. 

Lisa, a film and television executive, finds her degree has given her an enormous edge in her industry. She now has the skills to help filmmakers navigate complex legal contracts, so their projects can get off the ground. "I get to help make sure that Australian film is strong and vibrant and that we continue to have our own voices on the screen,” she says. 

Every business needs legal guidance, which means you can support whatever industry you’re most passionate about, from the arts and technology to the banking and finance sector.

Is a Juris Doctor worth it in Australia?

While those careers can all lead in rewarding directions, ultimately your degree is what you make it. 

If it’s your dream to work in the legal profession, then a Juris Doctor can help you stand out in a competitive field. According to Graduate Careers Australia, 74% of law graduates are employed within four months of graduating, which is above the national average of 68.9%. A Juris Doctor is also internationally recognised and more highly ranked than the Bachelor of Laws on the Australian Qualifications Framework, so that’s something to weigh up when comparing your options. 

A big barrier for many people can be the cost. If that’s the case for you, then a Bachelor of Laws might make more sense, because you will learn the same concepts at a lower investment. On the other hand, you can access some significantly more affordable online Juris Doctor degrees through Open Universities Australia. Your diploma won’t mention that you studied online or through us; it will only name the university. 

What’s the average Juris Doctor graduate salary in Australia?

According to the Hays Salary Guide 2022-2023, the average graduate law salary ranges between $53,000 and $70,000 per year, depending on your state and the size of your employer. 

And this increases significantly with experience. Lawyers with over six years in the industry can expect to earn between $100,000 to $160,000 per year. 

The style of law you go into can also influence your job prospects. Hays data suggests that the top legal careers currently needed in Australia are: 

  • Commercial property solicitors 
  • Insurance solicitors 
  • Commercial lawyers 
  • Family lawyers 
  • Corporate lawyers

The advantage of a Juris Doctor is that it can complement your existing undergraduate qualification and make you a stronger candidate in a niche area. For example, if you have a bachelor degree in human resources, a Juris Doctor could give you the knowledge you need to specialise in legal recruitment. Or if you're already qualified in accounting, your legal degree could be a stepping stone into a regulatory compliance role. 

The law can take you in so many exciting directions. The question is, which way will you choose? 


Ready to compare online Juris Doctor degrees? Discover what’s available with leading universities.