Spring in the step of new solicitors amid signs of improving jobs market

After years of dismal employment prospects, new solicitor graduates talk about change in the air

The Law Society of Ireland welcomed its freshest crop of solicitors with a parchment ceremony at Blackhall Place last month. Fifty-two new lawyers were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors

The Law Society of Ireland welcomed its freshest crop of solicitors with a parchment ceremony at Blackhall Place last month. Fifty-two new lawyers were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors

 

The Law Society of Ireland welcomed its freshest crop of solicitors with a parchment ceremony at Blackhall Place late last month. Fifty-two newly qualified lawyers were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. For many of them it has been a long journey since they first decided to study law just before the economic downturn.

“This is a happy occasion and while we have no reason to feel complacent, we can sense that things are improving for us economically,” said Law Society president Kevin O’Higgins at the parchment ceremony. “This is evident in the noted increase in numbers of solicitors in the top 20 firms in the last year alone and hopefully that increase in activity will trickle down for the benefit of the entire profession.”

After years of dismal employment prospects, the graduates talked about change in the air.

Gavin Bluett started a law degree at NUI Galway 12 years ago. “It’s been very slow,” he says. “When I started, we were in the boom. The Celtic Tiger was in full flight, so it was almost a guarantee that you’d get a traineeship.”

A common entry route into the profession is to find a traineeship at a solicitor’s office and apply to Blackhall Place as a trainee solicitor. “I thought I would have gotten a traineeship in Galway. I probably would still be in Galway if things had stayed the same, but when I graduated, everything had changed significantly, so it was necessary to do a master’s and lots of internships.”

After college, Bluett completed two postgraduate law degrees, worked in the United States, took internships wherever he could and almost stayed in Australia for good.

“I had a brief stint in Australia and I had a traineeship lined up to come back to,” he adds. “That actually fell apart while I was there because things ended up getting worse . . . The life was good in Australia. I was really enjoying it. I was earning good money, the weather was fantastic, so it was a hard decision to come back and go, ‘Look, you’ve done all these years of study, you might as well just keep going. It’ll happen.’ And it did,” he says.

“I eventually landed a traineeship, but that was five years after finishing my undergrad, which was a hell of a lot longer than I thought it would take.”

Bluett says he is happy with how things have turned out. He works in Leman Solicitors’ corporate and commercial department, where he practises business, corporate structuring and sports law.

Aisling Brady graduated from NUI Galway with an undergraduate law degree in 2009. “When I came out, it was very grim,” she recalls. “I thought about maybe going to America at that stage, a lot of people were going to Australia . . .

“The first few years when I came out of college, the recession was at its worst. It was very hard. That’s probably partly the reason why I didn’t go straight into doing my FE-1s [entrance exams] at Blackhall. There really weren’t that many apprenticeships up for grabs at the time.” She went to New York and San Francisco on student visas and did “bits of work” in law offices in Galway. She started at Blackhall Place in 2012 and did her traineeship with a solicitor in Cavan.

Brady now works in the commercial litigation department at Ahern Rudden, a mid-size firm in Dublin, doing landlord/ tenant and personal injury law.

“The work is fairly mixed and I enjoy it,” she says. “I’ve recently taken the New York bar exam, so I’d hope to pass that as well just to have an extra qualification. You never know what might happen down the line, but I’m happy for now.

“I have a permanent job and I’m very lucky.”

Brady says she has noticed an upturn in the profession, particularly in the last six months. “There were no openings for training contracts, whereas now if you go on to the Law Society website any day of the week, it’s rare that there wouldn’t be things advertised.

“I think a lot of people would agree with me on that. Before, you had to have a certain amount of experience before you would actually be taken on, but now there are lots of openings for newly qualified solicitors.

“You get those moments [of thinking about giving up], but you just have to keep persevering. If you want it, you’ll go after it. There are hard moments, of course,” says Pamela Downes, who finished a law and accounting degree at the University of Limerick during the economic crisis. “A lot of my [undergraduate] classmates have gone to Canada, a lot went to London, a couple went to America. A lot of them went away.”

So did she. Things in Ireland were “stagnant”, so she took the New York bar exam and spent two years working in a large real estate firm there. “I got homesick at that stage and I knew I wasn’t going to stay there long term,” Downes says. “I wanted to come home and start the ball rolling and get qualified here.”

She came back in 2012 and took the FE-1s and then sat the qualified lawyers transfer test, a conversion exam that allows lawyers qualified in certain other jurisdictions to practise here. She now works in medical negligence and personal injury law at a small firm in Tipperary. She says she is “happy out” and enjoys the work.

“The job market is definitely picking up. Definitely. The opportunities now, I wouldn’t say there are plenty of them, but they’re popping up. Things are moving, which is hopeful for everyone.”

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