Higher Options career talks: law

While most who work in the legal sector complete law degrees, there are other routes

Think a law degree is vital to get a job in the legal industry? Not necessarily, say experts in the field.

“Doing a law degree is a very broad degree in one sense,” says David Kenny, associate professor of law at Trinity College Dublin. “You get a really broad education in different aspects of the law and you get real analytical and legal skills from the course.”

However, completing a law degree does not immediately qualify a student to be a lawyer, says Prof Kenny.

There are subsequent steps if you want to become a solicitor or a barrister.

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Solicitors / barristers

In simple terms, solicitors typically work in law firms and advise on areas of law, while barristers specialise in court advocacy and giving legal opinion to clients.

“If you want to be a solicitor ... that is something that requires you to do a set of exams following your degree called the FE1s,” says Prof Kenny.

These exams grant students access to the Law Society, which trains students to become a solicitor, before finishing their studying practising in a law firm.

For students who want to become barristers, this involves sitting entrance exams for King’s Inns, which can lead to a one-year barrister-at-law degree or a two-year degree part-time.

This qualifies you as a barrister, which leads to subsequent training with another barrister, a process known as “devilling”.

Degree vs diploma

While most who opt for these routes have completed a law degree, there are other routes such as a diploma in law for those who completed other degrees. “It’s not the end of the road if you didn’t study law at university, there are opportunities to pivot into law,” Prof Kenny adds.

Diverse fields of work

One area of work for solicitors surrounds processing business and tax transactions.

Dearbhla O’Gorman, who works in this field as an associate solicitor with Arthur Cox in Dublin, says her day-to-day work “involves corporate transactions – companies buying other companies, selling companies, making investments and entering into financing arrangements” as well as advising clients on tax and financial decisions.

If working as a solicitor doesn’t appeal, “the other main option in this country in terms of practising the law, is to become a barrister.”

Barristers specialise in court advocacy and giving legal opinions to clients.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who studied law in UCD and now works as a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London, works in human rights law.

This has involved working with journalists who are at-risk because of their jobs or targeted by governments or others who want to silence them. “It’s a very rewarding part of the work that I do,” she says.

Interview conducted in 2021

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