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How to get a job in law, legal services and patents

Graduate careers in law, legal services and patents: getting a job, applications, working life and salaries.

Getting a job in law, legal services and patents

To qualify as a solicitor or a barrister, you will need to undertake professional exams and an apprenticeship. The details vary depending on which profession you use and in which jurisdiction.

Most newly qualified solicitors remain with the firms they trained with for their first year.

After qualifying, solicitors get employment in solicitors’ firms (or in-house for other organisations) while barristers are self-employed.

Areas of work

The legal profession is divided into two professional practice areas: solicitor and barrister. There are approximately 1,900 barristers in Ireland. Approximately 60 per cent are male and 40 per cent female. Most barristers are based in Dublin; 80 reside in Cork and 120 in the rest of the country. There are almost 600 barristers in Northern Ireland at present. There are approximately 8,000 practising solicitors in the Republic of Ireland and approximately 1,850 in Northern Ireland.

When to apply

Students who want to be solicitors need to secure a training contract with an approved solicitor before they start their professional qualifications. Trainee barristers do their training after they finish their professional qualifications.

How to get a training contract with a law firm

If you're looking for a contract as a trainee solicitor, you need to find ways to give yourself an advantage.

When choosing your training contract, it is important to consider the following points:

  • What type of traineeship do you want?
  • What type of environment do you want to work in?
  • What kind of exposure to clients do you want?
  • What are your medium to long-term career goals?
  • What values do you have?

Tips for graduates

  • Graduates need to be proactive and flexible in securing the traineeship they want.
  • Send your CV and letter to a named contact.
  • Make sure your CV is appropriate, relevant and impeccable.
  • Have a consultation with a careers adviser.
  • Get relevant summer work experience – this puts you at a real advantage.
  • Networking, and building on and strengthening contacts, is a must.
  • Take a gap year and consider working as a legal assistant. The experience gained and network you develop should ensure that you get the traineeship you want.

Qualifications and skills necessary for law, legal services and patents professionals

Along with professional qualifications, you will need particular personal qualities to work in law.

A barrister needs to display evidence of thorough, organised and well researched preparation and, most importantly, the ability to think and act on his or her feet. Since barristers depend almost entirely on solicitors for work, they need to be able to network effectively and build on any contacts they already have. Life as a barrister is most definitely not for the meek.

The essential qualities and skills for a fulfilling and successful career as a solicitor include well developed communication and interpersonal skills, the ability to work effectively as part of a team, and good research, analytical and evaluative skills.

Opportunities for professional development

Career development for barristers is well structured and depends on seniority. In the Republic of Ireland, a newly qualified barrister is known as a Junior Counsel. A Junior Counsel can apply to become a Senior Counsel after 15 years’ experience as a Junior. Senior Counsel will generally practise only in the High Court and Supreme Court. In Northern Ireland, the most senior barristers are known as Queen’s Counsel. Other barristers (who may also be very experienced) are known as Junior Counsel. Barristers have a long tradition of public service; in the Republic of Ireland many have become members of the Dáil and the Seanad, and the Attorney General is always a member of the Bar. Senior judges are selected from the ranks of members of the Bar.

Solicitors can work their way up in a firm and there are many opportunities to specialise in particular areas of the law.

Salaries in law, legal services and patents in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

The rewards are good in this profession: solicitors in the Republic of Ireland can earn over €40,000 less than a year after qualifying.

In the Republic of Ireland, trainees who have completed Professional Practice I are paid €378 a week. After completion of Professional Practice II, the weekly salary is €450. Less than one year after qualifying, solicitors in ROI can earn over €40,000. Partners in large firms can earn €100,000 upwards.

Solicitors in large firms earn approximately 20 per cent more than those working in small firms. Bonuses vary considerably: broadly speaking, solicitors receive between 10 and 30 per cent of fees generated.

Trainee solicitors in Northern Ireland are paid from £10,600–£18,000, depending on their stage of training. Qualified solicitors working in a small practice earn between £18,000 and £45,000. Partners can earn up to £80,000. Partners in large firms earn at the same scale as in ROI.