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20 February 2015
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Interview factsheet: 13 of 15 Karen Donnelly
Karen Donnelly
Job: Solicitor
Name: Karen Donnelly, Age: 26, From: Crossmaglen Quote  ‘You have to have the confidence to stand up in court in front of a packed room and a judge.’
Karen Donnelly
Key Skills
5 out of 5Communication 3 out of 5Improving learning and ability
2 out of 5IT 5 out of 5Problem solving
3 out of 5Application of number 5 out of 5Working with others

The lowdown

I did a three-year degree course in Law at Queen’s University, Belfast. During the final year, I sat the exam for the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) and then I attended there for two years. The course involves teaching at the Institute and work experience with a firm of solicitors. I trained with a large Belfast firm and after I qualified I started a job with Agnew Andress Higgins, where I have been working for two years.

What you need

You need good A-levels to get into the Law course at Queens, although other universities will accept you with lower grades. It doesn’t usually matter what your subjects are, although English is a good choice. If you want to train as a barrister or solicitor, you must complete the requisite modules of your law degree. The University will advise you.

During the final year of your law degree, you sit an exam for the Institute. This exam isn’t too bad, but the competition is very high (in my year, about 400 people sat the exam and there were only 70 places for solicitors and 20 for barristers). However, if you do well enough in the exam and in your degree, you get in!

Once you’re at the Institute, you study lots of different courses and sit exams in most of them. But they are not difficult in comparison to A-levels! You also need to find a firm of solicitors to take you on as an apprentice (or, if you want to become a barrister, you need to find a Master whom you can shadow). This means that you have to send out your CV and attend interviews until you secure an apprenticeship.

My typical day

I try to get to work before 9am. Usually, someone makes coffee and the secretaries normally file the post and deal with anything straightforward (eg, they send cheques out, phone clients with appointments, set up consultations etc). I then tackle any post that requires a bit more thought.

About three mornings a week, I have a case in court. The client comes in at about 9.30am and I take him/her and any witnesses down to court. We normally consult with the barrister and the engineer/doctor depending on the type of case and wait for our case to be called. Sometimes you can be stuck in court all day if a case runs in front of a judge, other days you can settle the case early on and get back to the office before lunch.

In the office, I have to see clients, speak to solicitors on the other side of my cases, dictate letters on files, go through clients’ GP notes and records, read engineers’ reports, set up meetings and check the post before it goes out in the evenings etc.

I’m usually back in court in the afternoon, taking clients to meet their barristers to discuss their cases or meeting the other side to try to settle cases. We finish at 5.15pm and I normally get home around 6pm.

Dress code

Formal - I have to wear a suit all the time as I am in court most days.

Cash register £££££

At the beginning, when you are training, it is very poor and a real struggle. However, the pay rises rather quickly and you can go on to great things…so far I’m only qualified two years and I’m not complaining!

Why I love my job

The social aspect - I meet new clients every day and because I’m in court a lot, I get to meet up with lots of my friends.

Useful skills

You have to have the confidence to stand up in court in front of a packed room and a judge. It’s daunting at first but you get used to it pretty quickly. It’s also good to be very diplomatic because you deal with all sorts of clients! Finally, you need to be very organised. There are time limits which must be adhered to!

Cool perks

If you’re a young solicitor and you’re out all day in court, the barrister normally buys your lunch…other than that, you get the odd grateful client sending you a box of chocolates, wine or flowers to thank you. But that’s it really.

Spill the beans!

There are so many different types of law. I specialise in civil litigation (road traffic accidents, injuries in the workplace, medical negligence) as well as in employment law (sex/religious discrimination, unfair dismissal etc). But there is a wide choice of areas to concentrate on once you have qualified. If you are really interested in, for example, commercial law, then you should try to find a solicitor’s practice which specialises in this area to take you on as an apprentice.

Top advice

Try to speak to people who are already qualified about their job. They’ll give you an idea about the type of law you might like to practise. Also, even if you don’t become a barrister or a solicitor, a Law degree is a good degree to have and it leaves your options open for lots of other careers.




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