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