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Law firms are run by ‘dinosaurs’ looking to exploit ‘desperate’ grads

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‘I cannot wait to qualify and change professions’, says anonymous rookie solicitor Dejected Trainee

The joy of securing one of only 100 places at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies in Northern Ireland (completing the Northern Irish equivalent of the Legal Practice Course (LPC)) quickly turned into a feeling of regret, pressure, anger and helplessness. A feeling not uncommon among trainees, particularly those away from the bright lights of the City at mid-tier firms. After some research among friends I studied with, over half said they had been dissuaded from becoming a solicitor after their experiences in mid-size firms in Northern Ireland.

The realisation

In September, I sat down ready for my first three-month spell within a firm as part of my training contract. At this point, I should explain the training contract structure in Northern Ireland is different compared to England and Wales, with trainees splitting their time between the firm and their studies. After three days and no training, I had 100 cases and no idea what I was doing. The money was no compensation for this. The Law Society of Northern Ireland, like in England and Wales, only gives guidelines on trainee salaries — these are mere guidelines I can assure you. I work 40 hours a week and earn £700 a month. My diploma costs £10,000 and the firm does not pay for this. I am approaching the end of my training contract and I am drowning in debt and files.

My firm has hired and lost almost every graduate in my town. The partners in my department come and go as they please while a room full of overworked paralegals and two unlucky trainees line the equity partners’ pockets. My department has witnessed two members of staff suffer mental breakdowns in the last year — TWO! I do not plan to practise as a solicitor when I qualify but I can’t quit now as it will have all been for nothing. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the ‘modern’ law firm for many trainees.

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The job itself

The work is monotonous, mind-numbing and unrewarding. I haven’t had the chance to rotate to a different department despite my requests. I feel like I am waiting out a life sentence in a dying industry. I cannot wait to qualify and change professions. I have 124 live files and often work overtime, which is pointless as there is no end to my tasks. But the longer I work the more I get paid, right? Wrong. Our salaries are capped and we cannot earn more by working overtime.

Money woes

My pay packet is not enough to get by. I took a second job as a business development manager at a local company so that I didn’t have to move back in with my parents. I get paid more in a full week there than a month at my firm. I am extremely lucky to have this as I know people on my course who don’t have this luxury and work as bartenders and waitresses after work and class. I fully intend to qualify as a solicitor and then jump ship.

Don’t jump without looking

This is the reality. The legal profession is run by dinosaurs who take advantage of young graduates desperate to get on the legal ladder. They have no idea what is needed to attract smart, young and driven law graduates.

This goes beyond salary; there is no work-life balance. No relationships outside of work. Nothing. I am lucky enough to have plotted an escape but some are not so lucky. If any student is considering law or any law graduate is considering becoming a solicitor, think carefully and choose wisely.

Dejected Trainee is a trainee solicitor at a law firm in Northern Ireland.

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