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Small Practice Traineeship Grant
Grant recipient Donna Ferry

11 May 2021 / Education Print

Let’s stick together

Donegal native and trainee solicitor Donna Ferry is an evangelist for the Law Society’s Small Practice Traineeship Grant. Mary Hallissey reports.

Donna Ferry is following her dream of working in criminal law and training as a solicitor. The substantial funding for her educational costs, largely funded by the Law Society’s Small Practice Traineeship Grant, allows her to train relatively close to home.

She’s the only trainee solicitor working with sole practitioner Phelim O’Neill of Strokestown, Co Roscommon. Not surprisingly, Donna is an enthusiastic evangelist for the grant. The busy Strokestown practice has never had a trainee, and is enjoying the positive impact that another pair of hands is bringing to the firm.

Having completed her FE-1s in just over a year, Donna began work with her training firm last July. The grant assists small firms outside the urban districts with the cost of employing a trainee solicitor (see panel). The total value of the grant to the firm and the trainee is €25,000 over two years.

“This grant gave me the opportunity to live in a small community without having to relocate to Dublin,” explains Donna. “This was always my goal. I now live in Carrick-on-Shannon, where rent prices are extremely affordable, and I am just a two-hour drive from my hometown of Letterkenny.”

Dance away

In December 2020, Donna began the Hybrid PPC1 course, completely stress-free, as the grant covered €7,000 of her fees.

“This grant is available to all trainees and, since I am completing the hybrid option, it means I can work continuously throughout my two-year traineeship without taking long breaks to attend Blackhall Place.”

The grant has proved to be a boon, both to the trainee and her law firm, and has enabled her to specialise in criminal defence – her first love – having chosen criminal justice and criminology as her NUI Galway BCL electives, before she graduated in 2018.

Donna (24) is one of a cohort of 80 PPC trainees benefiting from the Law Society’s hybrid option, and hopes to qualify from Blackhall Place in early 2023. The hybrid course offers flexibility to those who wish to qualify as a solicitor, but who are unable to commit to either moving to the capital or commuting long distances to study.

Originally from Falcarragh in Co Donegal, her family moved to Kilmacrennan, ten minutes outside Letterkenny, when she was quite young. She never had a desire for big-city life, she says, and chose to study a BCL in the “cosier environs” of NUI Galway. 

More than this

With her focus on getting a traineeship at a rural law firm relatively close to home, she was delighted to hear about the Small Practice Traineeship Grant, and is now an enthusiastic advocate for the option.

“The rent in Leitrim is one of the lowest in the country,” she notes, and feels she is much closer to achieving her life’s goals, such as property ownership, without the expense of big-city living.

She loves the variety in her law firm and the fact that the legal team travel quite a lot when representing clients, including to Letterkenny Courthouse. (She’s looking forward to the day when she’ll be able to stop at her parents’ house for tea and a chat following a busy day in court.)

Donna helps her firm to prepare the paperwork for both Circuit Court and Court of Appeal cases, and, when required, travels to both Dublin and Cork Central Criminal Courts for proceedings.

She believes that the Small Practice Traineeship Grant will help contribute, in some measure, towards the economic rebalancing of rural areas by spreading “good jobs” around the country.

“You can be just as successful out in the country,” she comments. “You can do just as well, buy a house, and get along quicker.”

Out of the blue

She comments that, without the Law Society funding, her Roscommon firm would not have taken on a trainee. In addition, the help towards her PPC1 fees is very welcome and has removed much of the financial pressure.

The application process is very short, she explains, and includes a section for the training solicitor to explain what experience is on offer at their firm.

“A lot of small firms would be keen on this grant, especially if there is no family coming through. Phelim is very anxious to get me qualified, and I’ve settled in very quickly. I work closely with him and alongside a lot of barristers. I don’t think I would get this experience at all if I was in a bigger practice.”

Of course, quite apart from the advantages being enjoyed by Donna, her training firm has the benefit of knowing that she won’t have to take nine months out at Blackhall Place to continue with her PPC training: “I’m working throughout the whole course,” she enthuses.

Take a chance with me

“From my experience seeking a traineeship, I learned that you should not fear voicing the idea of the Small Practice Traineeship Grant to your prospective firm. It adds an extra element to your CV, and may just secure that much-needed traineeship.

“This grant is a great incentive for solicitors to reach out and seek a trainee to boost their firm. Trainees bring new life and ideas, and this grant provides great financial support and opportunities to small firms,” she says.

Donna also describes the flexibility of the Hybrid PPC as “excellent” – spending four days in the office, and two days studying. Multiple online communication channels encourage constant interaction with fellow trainees.

“Everyone is very happy on the hybrid course – there are no drawbacks – and we’ve had our skills classes, one-to-one. In addition, you can work that extra time you’d otherwise spend when travelling,” she concludes.

“It’s probably better than being on-site at Blackhall Place, because you don’t have to travel and get organised. Even for those not far from Dublin, everyone could benefit.”

 

SUPPORT FOR A NEW GENERATION OF SOLICITORS

The Small Practice Traineeship Grant scheme provides funding of €18,000 to the training law firm over the course of the two-year training contract. It also provides funding of €7,000 to the trainee solicitor by way of a discount on the PPC1 fee. In 2021, five grants will be made available.

The proposed training contract firm should:

  • Be located outside of the city and county of Dublin, and the urban districts of Cork, Limerick and Galway,
  • Be a small firm, consisting of five or fewer solicitors (including principal, partners, consultants and employed solicitors), and
  • Agree to pay the trainee at least the living wage (currently €12.30 per hour).

For more information, download the Small Practice Traineeship Grant rules on the Law Society’s website. Entries for the grant must be submitted by 2 July 2021. For further information, see www.lawsociety.ie.

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Mary Hallissey
Mary Hallissey is a journalist at Gazette.ie