Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Alan O'Neill from Bord Iascaigh Mhara to give some advice for people considering this job:

 

Alan O'Neill

Fisherman

Bord Iascaigh Mhara

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  Alan O'Neill
Some may think that you can go untrained into fishing. The best advice I would give people considering fishing as a profession is to get training. Fishing is an all encompassing career - when you need to go fishing, the rest of your life goes on hold unfortunately. It is very unpredictabe because you could be fishing non stop for three weeks and tied up for two.
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Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
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At a Glance... header image

Law & Legal

Everybody has cause to avail of legal services at some stage in their lives, for any of a variety of reasons:

  • Buying a house
  • Making a will
  • Seeking to claim compensation after an accident
  • Defending ourselves against an injustice
  • Participating in jury service
  • Being called as a witnesses in a court case

These are just some of the many ways in which we may find ourselves in direct contact with the law and with members of the legal profession. The profession is divided into two professional practice areas: solicitor and barrister, along with judges and various administrative support roles. A degree in law is also well regarded by non-legal employers and many opportunities exist for law grads who do not wish to practise law.
careers in law


Solicitor header image

Solicitors can be divided into two main groups: those in Private Practice, i.e; who offer their services to the public for a fee, and those who are employed 'In-house', for example, by the State, or by large commercial companies and industrial organisations. In-house Solicitors provide legal services to their employer only, and may specialise in specific areas of the Law.

Private Solicitors tend to be general legal practitioners and they provide legal services for 'clients'. As consultants to the public and to the business community, the work of a Solicitor is generally very varied:
  • Providing legal advice about matters such as buying or selling property or drafting a will;
  • Acting as agent or representative in commercial transactions;
  • Providing legal advice and representation in relation to family law issues or disputes or disagreements with another party such as an employer or neighbour;
  • Providing legal advice in relation to taking or defending a legal case, for example in the event of a road traffic accident or an accident at work;
  • Managing a court case on behalf of a client by acting as representative in dealings with the other party;
  • Briefing a barrister on behalf of a client; and
  • Representing clients in court - typically only the lower courts, such as the District Court and the Circuit Court, and very rarely in the High Court and the Supreme Court.

There are over 2,000 Law firms in Ireland. The most recent data from the Law Society shows that, between them, the 20 largest firms in Ireland for 2015 had 2,294 practising certificates issued - an increase of 108, or 5% on the number at the end of 2014.

Where will I find work as a Qualified Solicitor?

The two main options are the public (or state) sector and the private (or commercial) sector.

Public sector employers in Ireland include the Office of the Attorney General, which is made up of different offices:
  • The Advisory Counsel - responsible for legal advice and consultation to all government departments and offices
  • The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government - responsible for drafting legislation and statute law revision
  • The Chief State Solicitors Office - solicitors who represent the Attorney and the State work here
  • The Office of the Director of Public Prosecution - which also employs a team of solicitors
and Public bodies such as
  • The Law Reform Commission
  • The Courts Service
  • The Legal Aid Board - which has law centres all over the country providing civil legal aid and a refugee legal service.
Recruitment for public sector  is via the Public Appointments Service website.

Employment opportunities in the private sector are plentiful, ranging from large to medium firms in the main cities, to small firms in rural towns with a general focus across the board, to larger firms with a strong corporate/commercial focus. The latter are mostly Dublin-based and employ a large number of solicitors. There are also jobs available for in-house company solicitors in multinational corporations.

In total, there were 9,707 practising certificates (PCs) issued by the Law Society to the solicitors’ profession as a whole in 2015, representing an increase of 4% (384) on the 9,323 issued in the previous year.


2014 was the first time a female majority has existed in any legal profession anywhere in the world, according to The Law Society, with 4,623 female practising solicitors (compared with 4,609 male practising solicitors). The trend continued in 2015, with approximately two of every three newly qualified solicitors in Ireland being female, and is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

The 'main street' firm of solicitors found in most towns, provides mostly conveyancing, probate and litigation services on a day-to-day basis, and is an accurate picture of many law practices. However, specialised legal knowledge is often required by clients. The bigger legal firms tend to engage in specialist work for clients from the corporate and commercial world, tailored to meet their demands. Key specialist areas include:

  • Advice on Financial Services
  • Intellectual Property
  • Employment Law
  • Construction Law
  • Mergers and Aquisitions
  • EU and Competition Law
  • Taxation Law

Training to be a Solicitor 
In the Republic of Ireland it takes almost three years from start to finish, to become a Solicitor. Entry into this profession is competitive. Completion of the Law Society's Professional Practice Courses (PPC) plus an apprenticeship with an approved solicitor is necessary. 


Source: The Law Society

The vast majority of students would first have completed a degree, though not necessarily a law degree. Most trainees without law degrees will first take some form of preparatory course to equip them with the required legal background. 

The Law Society of Ireland monitors and controls the behaviour of solicitors through its Professional Code of Conduct, to which solicitors are obliged to adhere. The Law Society is also responsible for the education and training of solicitors.

The main steps to becoming a solicitor in Ireland are as follows:

A potential trainee must first pass the Law Society's Entrance Examination to its professional practice courses. In addition, if the trainee is not a university graduate, or does not hold some equivalent qualification, he or she must pass a Preliminary Examination before being permitted to sit the entrance examination.

Before commencing the Professional Practice Courses, the trainee solicitor must also obtain a two-year in-office training contract with a qualified solicitor. He/she may then take the 8 month Professional Practice Course I (PPC I) in the Law Society’s school in Blackhall Place in Dublin, before commencing 11 months of in-office training.

The apprentice solicitor then returns to Blackhall Place for the 3 month Professional Practice Course II (PPC II), after which there is a further 10 months of in-office training. At the end of this process, which takes 32 months in total, the trainee is qualified to be Admitted to the Roll and enrolled as a solicitor.

Finally, all Solicitors must have a  Practising Certificate. In order to receive a Practising Certificate, the Solicitor must pay an annual registration fee to the Law Society.

The Law Society of Ireland is the educational, representative and regulatory body of the solicitors’ profession in Ireland.

It exercises statutory functions under the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2008 in relation to the education, admission, enrolment, discipline and regulation of the solicitors’ profession.

See How to become a solicitor from The Law Society of Ireland.
 

New Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Scheme regulations (Solicitors CDP Regulations 2012) came into effect on 1 January 2013. Solicitors to whom the regulations apply must undertake at least the minimum specified number of hours of CPD required.

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Barrister header image

Barristers are lawyers who specialise in advocating in court for their clients and giving legal opinions. Barristers act as consultants to solicitors. As their job is more specialised, they engage more in research.

There are some 2,300 barristers registered as members of the Law Library. The vast majority (approx. 1,878) were practising Junior Counsel and the remainder are Senior Counsel. Most barristers practise in Dublin, but approximately 106 practise in Cork and 191 in the rest of the country.

It has been reported that female barristers are set to outnumber their male counterparts in less than 10 years. Some 60% of the country's barristers are male, but women make up 45% of all barristers with less than seven-years practice.

The main functions of a Barrister are:

  • Drafting legal opinions, for example on whether or not a person has a 'good case';
  • Preparing court documents for exchange between the parties in a case;
  • Negotiating settlements; and
  • Representing clients in court.

Barristers can be divided into Practising Barristers and Employed Barristers. Practising barristers must operate as independent sole traders. Employed barristers are employed by companies or by the State, in particular, in the Office of the Attorney General, and occasionally by the larger solicitors’ firms, where they act as consultants. Employed barristers cannot represent their employers, or any other client, before the courts.

Barristers cannot be engaged directly by a client, except in limited circumstances. Instead,  a person who has a problem and wants legal advice must first approach a solicitor. If the problem proves complex, the solicitor will then engage a barrister on the client's behalf. The barrister will interpret the law in relation to the client's problem or situation. He or she will give an opinion on how strong the client's case or argument is and will advise on the best course of action to be taken.

If the case goes to a higher court (the Circuit Court, the High Court, the Supreme Court) it is the barrister that presents and argues the case for the client. Advocacy, which is the pleading of a case in court on behalf of a client, is not required in all cases. Many cases are settled between the parties before a court hearing. 

Training to be a Barrister 

The Honorable Society of Kings Inns regulates who may become a barrister, how and where. To become a barrister, you must pass the Barrister-at-Law degree provided at Kings Inns' school in Dublin, and be called to the Bar by the Chief Justice.

Did you know ...
The Bar of Ireland run a Transition Year Programme aimed at encouraging students to consider a career in Law.

Video: Bar of Ireland Transition Year Programme More

To be admitted to the Barrister-at-Law degree course provided by King's Inns, a potential trainee must hold an approved law degree from a third level education institution or the Diploma in Legal Studies (the latter is provided only by King’s Inns), before he/she can sit the entrance examination for a place on the degree course.


The Diploma in Legal Studies is taught over two years on a part-time basis. The Barrister-at-Law Degree course can now be undertaken as a two-year modular course or a one-year full-time course.

After completing professional training, all newly qualified barristers must spend a minimum of twelve months apprenticeship with an experienced barrister. This first year is also known as 'devilling' or pupillage and is unpaid. The pupil or devil must carry out their master's instructions and learn about the nature of professional practice.

Working Life

The working life of a Barrister is guaranteed to be insecure for the first four to five years and it can be difficult to become established. When a newly qualified barrister is called to the Bar, they are known as a Junior Counsel. A Junior Counsel can apply to 'take silk', otherwise known as becoming a Senior Counsel (SC) after 15 years’ experience.

Senior Counsel will generally practice only in the High Court and Supreme Court. They would usually specialise in a particular area of law, such as Family Law, Contract Law, Criminal Law, Tort, Employment Law or Commercial Law. Barristers also help to develop legislative programmes and draft laws.

Compared with other professions, such as architects, engineers and accountants, lawyers earn relatively high incomes. Starting salaries for a fully qualified solicitor are in the region of €50,000 per year. Experienced Barristers can earn between €55,000 - €110,000, with top earners averaging €200,000.

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Judge header image

In Ireland, Judges are appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Government.

Judges must have at least 10 years experience as a barrister or solicitor to be eligible for the post. They typically have many more years of legal service and experience before they are appointed.

In court cases where there is no jury required, it is the judge who decides which party shall win or lose in the case. He or she listens to the evidence of both sides and to the submissions of the barristers (or solicitors).

Did you know ...

In Ireland, each judge has a personal assistant in court, traditionally called a 'tipstaff' or 'usher' and more recently, Judicial Assistant.

He/she wears a black gown and, when in court, usually sits on a chair at one side of the judge. One of his/her duties is to announce the arrival and departure of the judge from the courtroom. The tipstaff's main function is to provide general assistance to the judge:
  • The tipstaff accompanies the judge while the judge is carrying out his or her duties. In the High Court and the Supreme Court, the tipstaff holds a long wooden staff when he or she is bringing the judge from chambers to the court and back. 
  • The tipstaff communicates with the other tipstaffs to keep the judge informed about what is happening in other courts on a day-to-day basis. 
  • If the judge wishes to communicate a message to another court, needs a book or needs another errand to be carried out, he or she may ask his or her tipstaff for assistance. The judge may ask questions of any witness and of the barristers (or solicitors). 

If there is a jury in the case, it is the jury that decides the outcome of the case. The judge merely provides guidance to the jury and makes sure that the trial is run properly.

The Courts

The Courts are a Judge's place of work. There are four main courts in Ireland: the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court. Other courts in operation are the Special Criminal Court and the Court of Appeal.

The District Court has jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal matters. It also has specified geographical limits. In the District Court each judge sits alone. You can appeal the outcome of a case heard in the District Court to the Circuit Court.

The Circuit Court has jurisdiction in more serious civil and criminal matters. In the Circuit Court each judge sits alone. You can appeal the outcome of a case heard in the Circuit Court to the High Court.

The High Court is presided over by a President of the High Court. It also has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. For example, the most serious criminal offences, such as murder, are dealt with by the High Court. In the High Court each judge normally sits alone, but for important cases it may sit as a bench of three judges. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from cases heard in the Circuit Court and High Court.

The Supreme Court was created as the final court of appeal and is presided over by the Chief Justice. The Supreme Court can sit as a bench of seven judges but normally sits as a bench of five, alternatively of three, judges.

Though courts can have jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters, the Special Criminal Court only deals with criminal cases.

At present, 27.4% of Irish judges are female. In the District Court, almost 30% or 19 out of 64 are female. The Circuit Court has 37% female representation. In the High Court, women constitute 17% of the judges, and in the Supreme Court the figure is 12.5%.
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Legal Support Roles header image

There are many career opportunities available in the areas that support the justice system in Ireland.

The Courts

Within the court system there are also Court Registrars (Clerks) and Stenographers (Court Reporter). Court Registrars are public servants at the grade of Executive Officer and they are recruited directly from the civil service. Court Reporters may also be contracted in from specialist private companies. The Courts Service advertises any vacancies through the Public Appointments Service (PAS).

Government

A significant number of legal professionals are employed at various levels of Government, playing a key role in the Criminal Justice System by investigating cases for the Department of Justice and other departments. Government vacancies are advertised through the Public Appointments Service (PAS).

Law Firms

There are over 2,000 Law firms in Ireland. As well as teams of solicitors with various areas of specialty and expertise, law firms also employ Legal receptionists, Legal Executives, Paralegals, Legal Administrators and Legal Secretaries - all of whom are required to support the work of solicitors, as well as the work of barristers and the court system. 

Many vacancies with Law Firms in Ireland are advertised with The Law Society. All of the major law firms will have their own HR and careers areas on their individual wabsites. 

Education and Training

There are numerous courses available in Legal Studies designed to equip entrants with the office and IT skills required by employers in this area. As well as a basic understanding of the law and the legal system, skills in producing and proofreading letters and legal documents such as contracts, wills, leases and legal bills, are typically required.

Visit Education and Training on this page for details.

Note: An Garda Síochána is responsible for policing duties and law enforcement and is part of the wider Defence Forces. Detailed information can be found in the Security, Defence & Law Enforcement Sector

[Detailed information on The Irish Justice System is available from The Courts Service website]

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Osmond House, Little Ship St. Dublin 8
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