|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 legal profession is made up of solicitors, barristers, judges and various administrative roles. The number of solicitors and barristers in the Republic of Ireland underwent a considerable growth spurt in recent years, due mainly to the growth in property development, the economic growth of multinational business, globalisation, and the ever-expanding development of the European Union. The legal sector, like all others, has been impacted by the economic slowdown in particular, the slow down in the property sector.
There are currently some 2,300 barristers as registered 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.
There were 2,193 Law firms in Ireland in 2012, and The Law Society had 9,814 registered solicitors - 4,194 (51%) were male, and 4,448 (40%) female.
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[Detailed information on the Irish Justice System is available from The Courts Service website]
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 companies. 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.
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.
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. 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 enrolled as a solicitor.
Finally, a Solicitor must have a Practising Certificate. In order to receive a Practising Certificate, the Solicitor must pay an annual registration fee to the Law Society.
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.
Barristers are lawyers who specialise in advocating in court for their clients and giving legal opinions. Barristers act as consultants to solicitors. Their job is more specialised and they engage more in research. 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.
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 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.
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. 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.
Judges in Ireland are appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Government. In cases where there is no jury required, it is the judge who decides which party shall win or lose in a case. He or she listens to the evidence of both sides and to the submissions of the barristers (or solicitors). 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. 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.
Other Legal Roles
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.
There are many opportunities available also in the legal support area. Legal receptionists, Legal Executives, Legal Administrators and Legal Secretaries are all required to support the work of the solicitors and barristers. Within the courts are also Court registrars and stenographers. Many colleges offer training courses in these areas.
Since 2008, the financial crisis has led to an extremely difficult and challenging marketplace for all professional practices and their clients. 2012 has seen a little growth in the economy, and there is more optism now of economic recovery. FÁS predicts that there will be long-term growth in many occupations requiring third-level qualifications. These include engineering, computing, science, and medical, legal and financial services.