The scenic route to the magic circle

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By Hannah McCarthy on

Between interning for a Democrat senator in Washington DC and working for Twitter’s legal team in Dublin, Hannah McCarthy qualified as a New York attorney — and in September started a training contract with Freshfields in London


After graduating in 2014 with a law and business degree from Trinity College I wanted to explore my options. Initially I was toying with the idea of becoming a barrister, but I was offered a place on the Washington Ireland Programme so I went over to the US where I worked in a communications firm for the summer.

I briefly returned to Dublin to sit the Irish bar entrance exams but during those exams I received a response to an application I had sent to the Democratic Party while I was in Washington. They asked if I would like to interview for a position on their congressional campaigns team and I ended up spending a further three months in Washington, working as a deployment coordinator for the campaign before interning for a further few weeks for Senator Chuck Schumer.

It was during this time that I decided to study for the New York Bar. Two good friends had recently taken it and since I was in the US I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I did BARBRI’s Bar Review course which enabled me to successfully pass the exam in New York in February 2015.

The day after the bar exam finished I went to a drinks reception that the Irish American Association of Attorneys holds for Irish students who have sat the exam. I was introduced to the president of the Irish American Bar Association, who was looking for a paralegal for his firm in Manhattan and I spent the next few months working for him there.

At the end of my time in Washington DC, I had decided that while I was keen to pursue a career in law I wasn’t yet sure what area of law I wanted to practice in. I considered doing an LLM in the US and applying to US firms but ultimately felt that I would be too restricted in what areas of law I would have a chance to work in. I decided to apply to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London because of the international environment and work and to have the opportunity to train with a range of different departments. I secured a role for 2016, which left me in the fortunate position of having 18 months to fill. So after my stint in New York I went back to Dublin, where I got a job in the legal team of Twitter’s European office for four months. It was a really interesting place to work. For anyone who wants to be a lawyer spending time working in-house is invaluable because it gives you a wider understanding about the relationship between lawyers and their clients.


The rest of my time before I started at Freshfields was spent doing a masters in public policy at Cambridge and working for the Cabinet Office’s Social Investment & Finance Team in London.

Training at Freshfields so far has been a great experience. My first seat was in financial institutions dispute resolution and now I am in international arbitration. Every day I am working with smart people who are really interested and engaged in their work. With the practice being very international, lots of the lawyers are dual-qualified. So having the New York Bar qualification is very helpful.

For me one of the big advantages of the English route is the training contract system. Rather than having to specialise very quickly, and risk going into the wrong area, you get to sample a variety of different branches of the law. There’s real value in those seat rotations. Although I’m part of this, I’m one of several of the group at Freshfields who are doing the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme rather than the Period of Recognised Training that UK law graduates complete. The trainees are a diverse group, with people from many different backgrounds and also some career changers.

Pursuing a career in law is a big commitment in terms of exams, training and cost. I found it really beneficial to take some time to work abroad and experience other sectors before starting in Freshfields. Looking ahead, I hope to work internationally with Freshfields at some stage, and maybe get involved in some way in politics again alongside my legal work. But for the time being I’m very happy to be finding my feet in London.

Hannah McCarthy is a foreign qualified trainee at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London and she is admitted as an Attorney in New York. You can find out more about qualifying as a US attorney here.

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