Big rewards for `the world's worst workaholics'

University graduates still have a long haul ahead of them before they become fully qualified solicitors

University graduates still have a long haul ahead of them before they become fully qualified solicitors. The first step is to apply to the Law Society at Blackhall Place, Dublin. The society is responsible for the professional training and conduct of solicitors in the state.

It lays down the conditions and procedures which graduates must adhere to before they can practice. The whole process, from entering the society's training programme to qualifying, then takes about two-and-a-half years.

Your degree doesn't have to be in law in order to apply to the society, graduates from many other disciplines are welcome. However, director general of the society Ken Murphy stresses that applicants without some law tuition would find the society's examinations and courses very difficult.

"The society's exams should not be taken lightly. You would need to have done a minimum of one year's preparation if your primary degree was not in law." A number of one-year courses are available to bridge this gap.


The first step is to sit and pass the society's Final Examination, Part One (FE1), which is held twice a year. The exam involves sitting papers in eight law subjects.

On passing the FE1 exams, graduates must become apprenticed to a master; this means a fully qualified solicitor agrees to take them on as a trainee for two years.

However, before they take up the position, the apprentice must complete the professional practice course at Blackhall Place. This legal practice course runs from October to April each year.

All apprentices must complete this course, regardless of whether their primary degree was in law. "This course gives graduates the practical skills to use their academic knowledge of the law."

The professional practice course involves continuous assessment and a final exam - on passing this, the apprentice finally goes to work in the master's office. Here they receive training in a variety of areas of legal practice, says Murphy. "Their responsibilities increase over the course of the two years as they develop the essential practical skills of the job."

Towards the end second year apprentices must return to Blackhall Place for three months to attend the professional practice course, part two.

When all that is over, the apprentice applies to the president of the High Court and is put on the Roll of Solicitors.

Most newly qualified solicitors stay on with the firms to which they were apprenticed for their first year; however, Murphy says the market is changing, bringing a greater level of opportunity for young solicitors.

"Solicitors are making big career moves at an earlier stage than ever before," he says.

Murphy says solicitors have benefited greatly from the influx of international companies into the State. "The Irish legal profession is well able to match the requirements of mobile investment companies, which are expecting and engaging very sophisticated legal services."

The ability to service the needs of international business is big feature of larger law firms. However, says Murphy, the great majority of solicitors are practicing in smaller firms, concentrating on private clients.

"The mainstay of their business is in property and conveyancing, probate and tax law and the administration of estates." Solicitors, he says, also have to deal with a constant stream of new legislation from the Oireachtas and the EU.

Murphy says the levels of earning and reward in the profession are good, but it's a career that can have adverse effects on one's personal life.

"Solicitors are the world's worst workaholics, and the biggest current issue in the profession is the lifestyle."

Solicitors work long hours in what is an extremely competitive industry. "You can't coast or stand still. The expectations of the public are huge and clients aren't as loyal as they used to be. It's very competitive in terms of costs and there's a constant downward pressure on fees."

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times