A degree isn’t the end route to a career in law

Subject profile: We look at the possibilities offered by a qualification in Law

Let’s get some of the common misconceptions out of the way first.

A law degree is not a guaranteed route to riches: many barristers, particularly in the early days, struggle to get work.

It’s not like the US TV shows: graduates are far more likely to work on corporate mergers than on high-profile criminal trials, and it is surprisingly rare for a legal case to end up in a courtroom.

And a law degree in itself is not the route to work as a solicitor or barrister – more on that later.

What’s the point of a law degree?

A law degree isn’t the end route to a career in law, but it will give you a significant leg-up. That said, many law graduates never work as barristers or solicitors but, instead, are snapped up by employers who value the analytical, research, writing, communication and problem-solving skills they develop on law courses.

Many law graduates go on to work in the Civil Service – particularly in policy-focused roles – while some want to work as a garda and study law because it can open up some promotional opportunities for them.

Increasingly, companies of all sizes have in-house legal teams to help navigate the complex web of laws and regulations that they must navigate, particularly in banking and corporate finance, biotechnology, data, insurance, pharmaceuticals and public utilities.

What do I study on a law degree?

Besides the aforementioned criminal law – really, quite a small segment of the profession – legal students will look at banking, company and corporate, constitutional (often cited by law graduates as perhaps the most challenging aspect of any law course), conveyancing (house sales), data (a growing area of law), employment, European Union law, family, human rights, probate (wills), property, tax and trade law.

A lot of work in the legal profession is simply giving advice, and some lawyers have built specialities in areas such as media or libel law, sports or even fashion. Personal injury provides a steady staple of work for the legal profession, helping people who may have suffered an injury that affects their ability to work or enjoy their daily life.

Where can I study law?

Many, many places. You'll find law degrees of one sort or another in UL, UCC, NUI Galway, Maynooth University, UCD, DCU, TU Dublin, Trinity, the Waterford and Carlow campuses of the new Southeast Technological University (formerly WIT and IT Carlow), the Letterkenny campus of Atlantic Technological University (formerly Letterkenny IT), the Athlone campus of Technological University of the Shannon Midlands-Midwest, Griffith College and DBS.

Some of these courses are focused on law only, some can be taken with languages, some can be combined with arts subjects and some have a business or taxation focus.

UL’s Law Plus and Maynooth’s law and arts degrees, for instance, allow students to combine legal modules with modules from an arts subject, giving a broader scope to the degree.

Business and law has long been a popular combination at UCD, while NUI Galway law students can combine the study of law with human rights or criminology.

One of the most useful combinations for any law graduate is law with a language, as it will open up careers in companies that deal with clients and partners overseas.

How do I qualify as a lawyer?

To qualify as a barrister, you need to apply to King’s Inns or, to qualify as a solicitor, you need to study at Blackhall Place.

But the good news is that, because law graduates will have completed certain compulsory subjects, they can apply directly to either of these institutions. Non-law graduates, however, must complete a two-year diploma in legal studies before applying to the barrister degree, while anyone without a law degree who wants to train as a solicitor must do a one-year diploma in legal studies to prepare for the FE-1 exams.

Barristers are self-employed, so if you fancy standing up in a courtroom and arguing a case, you’ll need more than good debating and communications skills: you’ll also have to be good at networking to drum up business with solicitors. And those solicitors will probably be working long hours, especially in their early years of practice.

How much do lawyers earn?

This is a tricky question to answer: barristers might rake it in, but they also might struggle to secure enough work to pay the rent, while solicitors’ fees will vary substantially as well, and it’s possible to meet solicitors struggling to eke out a living next door to solicitors who go home to mansions.

A 2019 survey by gradireland.com found that legal graduates started on a relatively high salary of €40,000, while jobs website Jobted.ie found that lawyers earn an average of €59,200 per year, but that some can earn in excess of €200,000.

A selection of CAO points, 2021:

Law at Griffith College Dublin: 245

Law and arts at Maynooth University: 338

Business and law, TUS: 302

Law and French, Trinity College: 602

Law, NUI Galway: 542

Law Pathways, UCC: 533

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