Legal Studies

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Thinking of changing careers and moving into the law? Then a postgraduate course in Legal Studies might be your best option. Solicitor, barrister, judge – that’s the normal progression of ambitious legal eagles. As a career choice, it’s possible to ascend rapidly, especially in today’s economy where the demand for solicitors and legal professionals is high.  Property conveyance, drawing up of deeds, overseeing planning applications, representing corporations and a growing Irish economy… yes, the work is there.

Career progression in the Legal Profession

Many legal professionals start out as solicitors, building up their own practise. Solicitors usually specialise in corporate, family or criminal law.  Barristers are perhaps a senior version of a solicitor, having the sole right to advocacy in the larger courts.  These folks do the set piece arguing at the Four Courts, having been hired by a solicitor firm representing the client.  This is another source of responsibility for solicitors – only they have the right to hire, instruct and pay a barrister.

Law Courses: Further Postgraduate Study

Ultimately, to practice as a solicitor or barrister, there are various paths involving further vocational study, on-the-job training as well as examinations – depending on the area you would ultimately like to work for. For graduates from other fields of study who wish to train as solicitors, conversion courses are available that will prepare you for the necessary exams. Also, non-law graduates who want to take the Barrister-at-Law degree course will need to pass the King’s Inn Diploma in Legal Studies before they can sit the entrance exams.

The Law Society

The Law Society is the educational, representative and regulatory body of the solicitors’ profession in Ireland. Established in 1773, the Society got statutory functions under the Solicitors Acts 1954-1994 in the education, admission, discipline and regulation of the solicitors’ profession.  It works to improve access to the law generally and also provides representation, services and support for solicitors themselves.  The Society also deals with complaints from the public about members of the profession and administers a statutory compensation fund.

The Law Society is based at Blackhall Place in Dublin, and this large period building is home to libraries and lecture halls for the profession today. The Law Society of Ireland is the professional body for the 5,500 solicitors practising in Ireland and validates the qualifications of all law graduates, who must first come to Blackhall for six month’s tuition after their apprenticeship (which takes two years once the degree is completed).

The Honorable Society of King’s Inns

Meanwhile, The Honorable Society of King’s Inns is the oldest institution for legal education in Ireland.  The headquarters of Irish barristers, it was founded in 1541 during the reign of Henry VIII who granted to the Society a lease of the lands on which the Four Courts have stood since 1790. At that time, the Society moved to nearby Henrietta Street where the King’s Inns were built and stand till today.

Initially a voluntary society, membership has become compulsory for barristers wishing to practise in the courts.  Many prominent Irishmen have trained at King’s Inns including Theobald Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell, John Redmond and Edward Carson.

The Honorable Society of King’s Inns is an autonomous institution empowered to confer the degree of Barrister-at-Law, which is equivalent to a university law degree.  The reputation of the King´s Inns law school is international, particularly because of some of its modern-day illustrious graduates – Mary Robinson, Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and John Bruton.

Training Options Available

Today, the Law School of King’s Inns provides law courses, which, if successfully completed, allow students to graduate as Barrister-at-Law and thereby be entitled to be called to the Bar of Ireland.  Admission to the courses is restricted to university law graduates and other candidates who have passed the Society’s Diploma in Legal Studies examination, which is to degree standard.

The degree comes after a two-year course of lectures and tutorials.   Only holders of the degree may be called to the Bar by the Chief Justice and allowed practise in the Courts of Ireland as a member of the Bar of Ireland – ie a barrister.  Once one is called to the Bar, you “devil” as an apprentice and Junior Counsel until you’re invited to “take silk” and become a Senior Counsel.  These latter guys are the big players, handling the big libel, criminal, civil and murder cases.  They’re also the senior in terms of pay.  Depending on their reputation and ability, a Senior Counsel can earn several hundred thousand pounds per year.

What you need to succeed

The number of places allocated at the King’s Inns varies from year to year between graduate holders of approved degrees in law and holders of the Society’s Diploma in Legal Studies.  Prospective King’s Inns students will soon have to sit an entrance exam to be allowed onto the Barrister-of-Law degree course.  Once there, subjects covered include Jurisprudence, Criminal Law, Company Law, Law of Evidence and Irish Constitutional Law.

Places in the degree course from next year will be allocated to those who successfully sit the entrance examination, but to sit this, candidates must have either a degree in Irish law from an approved university (including the core subjects or a Diploma in Legal Studies from King’s Inns).

Potential Career Paths

Practising barristers, (and in limited cases, solicitors), can then progress further to a judgeship. Solicitors and barristers can become District Court judges but it takes a Government appointment to get you on to the bench of the Supreme Court, the highest court in Ireland.

Useful Web Links:

http://www.lawsociety.ie

and two good general resource sites on legal careers:

http://www.venables.co.uk/studentscareers.htm

http://library.ukc.ac.uk/library/lawlinks/profession.htm


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