I'm an aspiring student from the United States about to embark on my undergraduate studies in my home country. However, upon completion of my degree, I have intentions to relocate to Ireland. I'm curious about the process of acquiring a law degree in Ireland and the necessary requirements for admission into a law program. Are there specific subjects I should focus on during my pre-university preparations? Moreover, I would greatly appreciate any information on the criteria set for international students. My knowledge for the moment on this is quite limited. Thanks!
Law in Ireland as a foreigner
Most universities in Ireland accept foreign primary law degrees. You'd have to choose between applying to become a Solicitor or a Barrister. The first are trained and managed by The Law Society of Ireland and the latter by Honorable Society of King's Inns.
Mike33 is correct, however I'm assuming based on my limited knowledge of the US system that your undergrad degree will not be a law degree. In Ireland we do have undergrad law degrees, which is generally the quickest path to becoming a lawyer in Ireland, but there are absolutely other paths for aspiring lawyers who did non-law undergrad degrees, and I'll treat your situation as the same as theirs for the purposes of this post as I think it will essentially be comparable. I am assuming for the purposes of this post that you want to become a lawyer in Ireland at the end of the process, but if you just want to go into academia or something then you should have no difficulty in applying to an Irish law masters with your undergraduate degree so long as it touches on politics, sociology or similar areas, though it may be advantageous (or even necessary) to do a "conversion masters" - more on those below.
As Mike33 says, your first step will be to decide whether to be a solicitor or a barrister. I can't post links here but if you google the difference in Ireland you will find a decent explanation from an Irish firm called McEneaney Tighe. In brief - if you want to be a courtroom advocate you will want to be a barrister and if you want to do any other kind of legal work such as property, commercial, tax law etc you will want to be a solicitor most of the time. Solicitors can do advocacy, but in practice few do and many clients will prefer to get a barrister for this work. You can transfer between the two but you get more training when you qualify initially into a profession so you should think carefully about which you want to do. I'm an Irish solicitor so feel free to send me a message here and we can chat about what that's like - I'd prefer to talk via LinkedIn or email or something but don't want to just post my contact info publicly so send me a message here if you're interested and we can go from there!
Once you have made this decision you will then have to go through their qualification processes. For barristers you should be able to find this on the Bar Council or King's Inns websites, for solicitors it will be on the Law Society website (the latter is a bit buggy but the info is there).
I'll explain the usual process for solicitors here and let you look at the barrister process on your own - as a solicitor I know that process well and don't want to mislead you on the barrister process. You will first need to assess whether you are exempt from the Preliminary Examination, which is basically language skills and knowledge of Irish politics and government. Your US degree will not automatically be exempt, but you can apply once you have that degree to see whether it will qualify. I suspect any US undergrad that touches on politics will be fine since the instruction will be in English, but I'd advise you to contact the Law Society to get an idea of this in advance so you know what you need to do at undergrad level.
Although it is not strictly necessary, many of those with Irish non-law degrees will also do a diploma or masters in law (a "conversion masters" which covers similar content to an Irish law undergrad, so not dissimilar to a US JD) so that they have a better background in the law before sitting the next round of exams. I would encourage you to do one of these as I think it is important, but you can probably get away without it and obviously finances will be a concern as you would be paying larger fees as an international student.
Next step after either sitting the preliminary examination or getting an exemption from it is to sit the FE1s (stands for Final Examination Part 1). These are eight exams in legal areas considered central to the practice of law in Ireland. There are two opportunities to sit the FE1s per year, in spring and autumn/fall, and they can be done remotely at present though this may change so keep an eye on the Law Society website. Each exam is three hours long and is closed book (so no notes), and costs somewhere in the region of €110 per exam (when I sat them, may have increased since) so it's in your best interests to study very hard to avoid having to repeat them. You only have to get 50% in each to pass them and no employer will care about your specific FE1 grades as long as you pass, but they are generally considered to be quite difficult. I can discuss this more with you privately if you like but I would recommend giving a few months over to study for each set of exams - you don't have to sit all eight in one sitting provided that you pass them all within five (I think) years of passing your first one. This is incidentally also why I would recommend doing an Irish law diploma or conversion masters even if your US undergrad exempts you from the preliminary exam, because it will cover all the examined subjects and make you a lot more comfortable with them.
Once you have passed the FE1s you will need to secure a training contract with an Irish solicitor's firm - training is a mixture of further education and in-office work, takes roughly 2.5 years to complete, and trainee solicitors must be paid at least minimum wage. The firm will pay the fees for the education part of the course (the Professional Practice Course or PPC) but is entitled to deduct the cost from your pay. I won't go into firms here because it's a long time away from where you are now and this post is long enough already but happy to discuss privately. There are exams during the PPC but they are largely considered very easy and the FE1s are the real hurdle - once you pass the FE1s and get a training contract you have done the most difficult part. Once you finish your training you will be an Irish qualified solicitor and also entitled to apply to qualify in England & Wales as well.
This is a lot I know so please feel free to message me and best of luck with it all!
[Edited by caighdean on Jul 23, 2023]
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