Career Guide: Law
Law opens other doors too
Russell Library in Maynooth University: general law degrees
Not all law graduates go on to become lawyers or solicitors: it is a surprisingly general degree which can lead to a range of career options.
Law students learn the arts of analysis, research and logical reasoning. They find creative and imaginative ways around problems. They also become excellent oral and written communicators.
Despite the impression created by American TV shows, law isn’t just about exciting criminal trials or international human rights interventions. Criminal law is just one route, but the majority of law is much more sedate. Most solicitors and barristers work in property law, family law, company law, EU law, banking law, intellectual property law, tax law, competition and trade law and employment law.
Those working in the legal profession suffered the effects of the property crash, as demand for conveyancing dried up. It is still, however, a popular and often lucrative profession.
Where to study
There are many options for studying law in Ireland, with Trinity College, UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, Maynooth University and UL all offering general law degrees. Griffith College, a private third-level college, also has a strong reputation for the quality of its law courses. DIT, WIT, Letterkenny IT and Dublin Business School private college also offer them, while Athlone IT and IT Carlow have business and law degrees.
In many third-level institutions, students can choose a second subject or a language, leading to a much more flexible qualification. UL’s law plus degree is a popular option, where students take on law with either psychology, economics, sociology, history, politics, Irish or a European language.
UCD’s business and law course is consistently popular, but the university also offers law and Chinese studies, law with French law, law and philosophy and a law with social justice degree which has a particular focus on injustice and social inequality.
DCU also offers an innovative and engaging suite of law courses. Top of the list is the the BCL (law and society) degree, which provides an understanding of how the legal process operates and how law influences and is influenced by a diverse range of social forces. It combines teaching of all the foundational law subjects (e.g. constitutional law, contract law, criminal law etc), with critical perspectives on the nature of these subjects, on the practice of law and on the wider role of law in society.
There’s also a BA in economics, politics and law, as well as the unique and unrivalled BA in international relations, where students explore a variety of issues and debates in global politics and governance. The college also offers a joint honours arts degree which includes law, politics and international relations.
*This article was edited on June 17 to include information on DCU courses, which had been inadvertently omitted.
Law students don’t just get their degree and become lawyers; they have to pass further exams if they want to become a barrister or solicitor. It has become more difficult for newly qualified lawyers to walk straight into work.
However, many non-legal employers are hiring law graduates because they recognise their skill sets are broadly useful.
The most obvious employment routes are those of solicitor and barrister; put simply, a solicitor offers legal advice and prepares a case for court, while the barrister represents the client in court and argues on their behalf.
Many prospective lawyers spend years earning very little as they try to build up their briefs or private practice.
Many law graduates go on to work in banking or tax or they become accountants after a postgraduate conversion course.
Others, meanwhile, may go on to work in the civil service or public service organisations such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission or Law Reform Commission, personnel management, or probation services.
The stereotype of fat cat lawyers rolling in dosh is unfair. Barristers in Ireland are self-employed, so while the best rise to the top and can command high fees, it can be a struggle, particularly in the early years. Many leave the profession.
According to gradireland, an experienced barrister can earn between € 55,000-€ 110,000 a year, but a top earner can take in more than € 280,000.
A newly-qualified solicitor with one to two years’ experience in a medium-sized firm can expect to start off on about € 40,000, but those working in the Dublin region can earn up to € 10,000 more.
Many years down the line, a salaried partner in a large firm can take in over € 100,00; figures up to and above € 150,000 are not uncommon.