What’s life like in the field of law academia? Sarah Kendall, a higher degree by research student at The University of Queensland, explores this sometimes-overlooked career path.
Doing a Bachelor of Laws or Master of Laws doesn’t necessarily mean working in a law firm or a career as a barrister.
There are many other pathways you can pursue, such as:
- in-house counsel with a corporation
- working as a lawyer with government
- becoming an Associate to a Judge.
One career path that doesn’t always come to mind – but is equally compelling – is that of academia.
As a researcher at UQ Law School, I’m often asked by students what it means to work in academia and how to pursue this career path. Let’s talk about what’s involved, with some extra insight from some lecturers and my fellow researchers at UQ.
“As an academic, you aren’t often told what to do, or how to do it – it’s really up to you to provide your own direction and develop your own identity as a scholar and teacher.”
- Dr Joseph Lelliott
What is a law academic?
First things first, what does it mean to be an academic?
Academics work at universities, and their job consists of a combination of teaching, research and service.
Most university students will come across academics during their studies, as they fulfil the teaching component of their role in positions like tutors, lecturers and course coordinators for the student body.
As researchers, academics are also responsible for generating new knowledge through continued research, often on topics of their choosing. Within the discipline of law, academics can research a vast array of topics from domestic violence and national security law, to contract law and electoral law (to name just a few).
As an academic, you’re expected to then publish your research in things like journal articles, books and even media articles. Personally, I love to write, so this is one of my favourite parts of being a researcher. I’ve successfully written journal articles (which have been published in journals such as UQ Law Journal) and contributed to several policy papers and news articles for The Conversation.
Service within an academic’s role description involves things like:
- supervising research students
- representing the university they work for in media or projects
- attending functions (such as career events).
How much does an academic earn?
The amount you earn as an academic depends on the “level” of your appointment. In Australia, there are 5 levels. Your pay will increase as you progress through the levels, though the exact amount you’re paid will depend on your contract and place of employment. Below is a general guide for reference.
||$74,000 - $99,000
||$104,000 - $124,000
||$128,000 - $148,000
||$154,000 - $170,000
||$199,000 and above
*Sourced from UQ academic staff salaries.
Like other jobs, you need to demonstrate increased experience and competence to be promoted from one level to the next. When you begin your academic career, you’ll usually start at Level A or B.
The benefits of becoming a law academic
Whether you love to question the status quo, discover new things, teach others about your area of expertise or write, academia could be the perfect choice for you.
With the help of a few of my colleagues, I’ve listed the top benefits of a career in law academia.
Life as an academic has many upsides, including more flexibility than a typical 9-5 job. As you progress in your career, your values and goals will no doubt grow with you. This might mean making room for volunteer work, exploring new hobbies, or freeing up time to spend with your family.
Criminal law researcher Dr Joseph Lelliott loves the flexibility his role as a Senior Lecturer offers.
“Being an academic gives me a lot of freedom,” he says.
“I can work from home, start earlier or later in the day, and generally choose where I direct my time and effort.”
Freedom to pursue your passions
If you want a job where you get to do what you love every day, then academia could be for you. As an academic, it’s completely up to you to decide what you want to research, which means you can spend your days looking into topics that you’re actually passionate about.
“My interest in human rights and the protection of victims of crime has fuelled my research into two distinct areas – the smuggling and trafficking of child migrants and domestic violence offending,” says Joseph.
As for me, I love all things national security law, but I am also passionate about evidence law and the intersection of law and science/medicine. As an academic, I’m able to explore these passions, and split my time between researching espionage (spying) law as well as how victims with brain injury are treated during a criminal trial. I’ve even applied my interests to other areas of law, like looking at how national security laws impact press freedom.
Teaching and mentoring the next generation
As an academic, you’re in a unique position to teach and mentor the next generation. You can have a lasting impact on students’ lives and help them succeed in their careers.
Associate Lecturer Renato Saeger Costa finds teaching to be the most rewarding part of being an academic.
“Not only do I find that teaching helps me to learn, but it’s also inexplicably rewarding” he says.
“When I see my students thriving and excelling in their professional and personal lives, I cannot help but reflect on how my work has helped them get there.”
About the Author
Sarah Kendall is a current Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student, and president of the community UQ Legal Researchers at the UQ Law School.