The current route to qualifying as a solicitor in Ireland
Qualifying as a solicitor currently involves passing eight Final Examination – First Part (FE-1) which are held by the Law Society, completing the new model Professional Practice Course (PPC), completing twenty four months of in-office training and then being admitted to the roll of solicitors.
In order to qualify to sit any of the FE-1 exams, one must either be in third level education or have completed their degree. If completing the exams while still in college, one will receive a provisional pass which will be recognised on obtaining the degree. The Law Society holds two sittings per year for these exams, a two week period in Spring and Autumn, which may now be sat in person at Croke Park or online.
*If you are a non-graduate, qualifying involves an extra first step; the Preliminary Examination, a three paper exam held in Spring for which candidates may make three attempts maximum. Having completed the Preliminary Examination, one is eligible to sit the FE-1s.
The eight papers on core legal subjects include:
European Union Law
Equity and Trusts
Each candidate has seven years (essentially fourteen sittings) to pass these eight papers. These papers may be attempted one or more at a time, in any combination that the candidate wishes. The pass mark in each paper is 50% and each paper has an internal and external examiner.
General advice from our current trainees:
When approaching studying, we recommend making a realistic study plan and sticking to it. This should take into account the number of topics in each exam you intend on sitting (some have more topics than others, see the exam syllabus for this), other commitments in your life e.g. work/sport and the amount of time you have before the start of exams.
Consistency is more beneficial than intensity. Start sooner rather than later, giving yourself days off to ensure you don’t burn yourself out.
While it is helpful to chose exams based on the timetable with the aim of avoiding sitting two or more in a row, the official timetable isn’t released until quite late so this may not be feasible.
There are eight questions on every paper. Candidates must answer five.
It is useful to source exam grids which cover previous sittings as this will give you an insight into the frequency in which certain topics arise.
As obvious as it may seem, read the question carefully and highlight potential issues. It is vital to pick out the correct ‘issues’ from problem questions. As the examiner reports highlight: discussion of incorrect issues will inevitably result in low, if any, marks.
Write about the law which is applicable to the issues, not just the law which you have leant off.
Each paper usually consists of an approx. equal combination of essay and problem questions. However this is not guaranteed - contract law has had seven problem questions and one essay question in the last two sittings (March and October 2022).
When tackling problem questions, the ILAC method is efficient and preferred; Issue, Law, Application and Conclusion.
It is essential to clearly apply the law to the scenario given in the question, reaching a clear conclusion which supports your argument.
Answer the question on the page, not the question you were hoping would be asked.
The questions in Criminal Law, Company Law and Contract Law tend to contain a mix of topics, so it is crucial to cover the entirety of the syllabus.
Tort Law, Property Law, Equity and Trusts, European Union Law and Constitutional Law appear to take more of an individual topic approach to questions.
If you choose to sit the exams online, there is a time limit of three and a half hours. Consequently, candidates have 42 minutes per question.
If sitting the exam in person, there is a time limit of three hours, resulting in 36 minutes being available per question.
We would advise to move onto the next question once you’ve reached this time limit regardless of finishing the previous answer; you are much more likely to gain marks attempting a new question than trying to ‘perfect’ or add the final details to the previous answer. If you have spare time, you can come back to an answer at the end.
The examiner reports have clearly and consistently delivered the message that more often than not, failure to achieve a pass rate results from failure to answer five questions. It is repeated that this appears to either be due to lack of knowledge of the syllabus or poor time management. Our advice to stick to the time limits is consistent with the latter critique.
Past exam papers and examiner’s reports are available to purchase from the Law Society website.
Certain subjects have permitted legislative sources which you can have with you during the exam. These Acts must be unmarked i.e. no writing, however they can be highlighted and tabbed.
Having completed all eight FE-1s, candidates are eligible to enroll in the PPC, a full-time training course. Each candidate must have a practicing solicitor act as their training solicitor. The training solicitor must sign the candidate's indentures, effectively ‘sending them’ to Blackhall Place.
If you are finding it difficult to secure a training contract, it is recommended to attempt to obtain an internship as this will be an opportunity to show the firm your potential.
The new model PPC commenced in September 2022, combining the previous PPC 1 and PPC 2, creating a unitary course which runs for a 10 month period. There are three semesters in this course, which run from September to the following June. The first two semesters will include the core curriculum while the final semester will consist of advanced electives. These subjects will be taught through a combination of in person and online lectures, tutorials and skills groups.
The in-office training of twenty four months will commence fourteen days after the last exam on the core curriculum of the PPC. The training solicitor is required to provide the trainee with experience in three distinct areas of law. These areas of law are to include both contentious and non-contentious cases. Trainees who qualify for four months’ credit due to in-office training prior to commencing the PPC are entitled to subtract this from the total twenty four months required.
Alternatively, the hybrid version of the new PPC is also available. This route gives the trainee the option of engaging in employment during the PCC as the course is predominantly delivered online. This course runs the core curriculum from January to December, and advanced electives are held from May to June. This version of the course allows students to work while studying as the lectures, tutorials and skills workshops are available online. In-person tuition is also available through weekend sessions which focus on skills and small group work. If the trainee is in employment with their practicing solicitor during the hybrid PCC, they will consequently be entitled to up to five months credit towards the twenty four months in-office training which is in addition to the potential four months’ credit for in-office training prior to the PPC.
Upon completion of the in-office training, a trainee solicitor may then apply to have their name entered on the Roll of Solicitors, having officially qualified!!
About the author: Sinead Leahy is a Legal Intern in Dermot G O'Donovan Solicitors and can be contacted at email@example.com