“The different path I took to law has defined my career, it makes me a better solicitor...”
In light of leaving certificate results and CAO options this month,, the Law Society of Ireland is reminding future solicitors that there are many different pathways to a successful career in law, and sometimes the road less travelled can reap great rewards.
Chairperson of the Law Society’s Education Committee Richard Hammond S.C. said, “The solicitors’ profession in Ireland is open to everyone, irrespective of social background or Leaving Certificate results, who possesses the necessary interest, talent, and dedication. There are accessible routes to solicitor training for graduates and non-graduates alike.
“There is no need to hold a law degree, or any degree, to become a solicitor in Ireland. To qualify, every person, regardless of their educational background, must pass the Law Society’s entrance exams (FE1s) and complete the necessary in-office training and our new fused professional practice course.
“The Law Society’s Annual Report on Admission Policies of Legal Professions 2021 highlighted that last year almost 1 in 6 trainee solicitors on the Law Society’s Professional Practice Course are from a non-law background.”
Solicitor Martina Larkin is Head of Legal and Compliance at Cheshire Ireland, a national charity that supports people living with disabilities. Martina’s journey to becoming a solicitor started with a degree in Social Science and explains how her past experiences have helped shape her career.
“The different path I took to law has defined my career, it makes me a better solicitor and has allowed me find a fulfilling, challenging and rewarding career. Had I had a straight path to law, I’m not sure I’d be in the same position.”
“I wanted to be a social worker when I left school. I didn’t get the points for Social Work but was delighted to get the points for a degree in Social Science in UCD,” explained Martina.
“During this degree I learned about social policy. I was so attracted to the role of law in implementing social policy and in bringing about equality and social justice. It was there that I realised I wanted to work in law and advocacy.”
Qualifying as a solicitor
“While I was searching for my solicitor traineeship, I completed a number of courses to make myself more attractive to a firm. I didn’t come from a family that had connections in law and I was the first in my immediate family to go to college. But it was through a surprise interaction with a former tutor of mine that I got the chance to meet a solicitor. He was like me. He had not come from a family of lawyers but he gave me my start.”
Two years into practising as a solicitor Martina pivoted in her career. She said, “I had always gone into law with the intention of trying to progress social justice and promote human rights. Whilst I loved some elements of my work in a general practice, I didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
“When an opportunity came along for me to work as an advocate for disabled people I jumped head first at it. I worked in non-practising roles for almost three years and had amazing opportunities to work in advocacy teams with both Focus Ireland and the National Advocacy Service for People with a Disability. I loved it.
“These roles led me to Cheshire Ireland in 2014 where I started working directly with people with disabilities and moved up to a national management position. All of a sudden my legal skills were required and I became the in-house solicitor, amongst other roles. I have been in this role for the last seven years.”
Now almost 12 years qualified as a solicitor, Martina reflects on how her varied experiences has shaped her career for the better.
“In retrospect, my primary degree was the driving force behind my current role and in my own value system. During my degree in social science I learned so much in terms of challenging the social system, challenging my own and society’s perceptions and in how social policy aligns with law. My degree enabled my passion for social justice to flourish. It highlighted my path to law.
“My past experiences working on behalf of people who face social exclusion every day are the bedrock for how I work as a solicitor and as a manager of a large not-for-profit organisation, Cheshire Ireland.
“The skills I learned as a solicitor are invaluable. The practical client relationship skills were what propelled me forward to have the confidence to work with people who often are stigmatised by society. The litigation work I did showed me how legal remedies can be used to protect vulnerable people and challenge injustices. It also allows me to support Cheshire Ireland’s governance structure to better enable it do the work it does.”
“Being a solicitor gives you leadership skills and is not something that is reserved for the most intelligent or extraverted. It is a vibrant profession that can only benefit from increased diversity and inclusion. The more people who come to law with different lived experiences, the better the profession can represent every part of society.”
“For those who are thinking of swapping careers, I would say follow your heart and go for it. In the words of Brene Brown, a great leader and coach: ‘choose courage over comfort’! If it doesn’t feel right, be vulnerable and take a leap out of your comfort zone. You might not know where you land but you have a huge asset in your training and skills.”
Law as a career
“The modern solicitor must be reflective of Irish society. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds, with different lived experiences and viewpoints to consider qualifying as a solicitor. There are many avenues to a career in law, and it is never too late to explore them,” said Mr Hammond.
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