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How to make the transition from Trainee to Newly Qualified Solicitor

19 April 2018
Patrik Gothe Xi Tfeni0d My Unsplash

 Completing your solicitor qualification is a significant career milestone for all legal professionals, however it can often lead to feelings of uncertainty as you consider the next steps your career. Exam stress is replaced by daunting important career decisions, and there isn’t much information available to support you in making that decision and taking that important career step.
I have put together some pointers to ensure you make a smooth transition from trainee to qualified lawyer.

Carefully Consider Your Area of Qualification

The area of law you specialise in at NQ level can have a significant impact on the shape of your entire legal career. Whilst it is possible to change area of specialisation later in your career, it is better for you to get this right from the start. There are many factors that can help you to evaluate & identify what area is right for you.
It might be an area you enjoy or have a strong interest in. It might be more tactical than that – maybe you want to choose a particular practice group in order to better your position for later in your career for example having the option to move in-house.
Ask yourself the following questions:

    • Among the different practice areas, which one do I most enjoy? Where can I see a future? Does the group offer strong career prospects and career development?

    • Do I see a long term future in the firm I have trained in? Should I move to a different firm as a qualified solicitor?

    • What are my prospects for securing a position in certain groups? How many others are applying etc. This can be important as areas such as Corporate and Litigation are usually the most popular and a reason why you may not secure a position can simply come down to numbers.


I help ensure that the legal professionals I work with are aware of the options available to them to switch specialisation, especially as the job market has opened up considerably since they were offered their training contract, with much more availability and demand for NQ solicitors.
Generally, if you think your chances of not getting into your preferred area of qualification are low, it’s prudent to explore the market and other opportunities in firms here or abroad.

Work/Life Balance

Work/Life Balance is always a topical area within the legal industry. As a NQ Solicitor it can be tough and the hours can be long and unpredictable. Some firms will expect you to make sacrifices from your personal life, and this can at times seem unavoidable.

However, if you find the right firm and the right culture fit, you will find that your Work/life Balance will improve. Evaluate the culture of the firm, is there a culture of long hours or is it just something that is required when there is a project deadline or a busy period within your department.

Size of the firm

A lot can be said for the different size of law firms available to NQs in Dublin. Smaller firms don’t necessarily mean small cases. Smaller law firms can mean a lot more responsibility for Associates and a wider variety of work. If you want more responsibility early in your career think about joining a smaller firm – you will be a bigger cog in a smaller wheel.
There are also global firms that offer multi-services and have reputations for being the best at what they do. Here you will find associates working on bigger projects but they may also offer more opportunity career wise for a NQ.

Culture fit

Culture fit is an important area for NQ’s to consider and should be given as much consideration as choosing your practice area. Every law firm has a different culture that they value and want to maintain, this is why they work hard in selecting the right associates to join their firm.

Do your research and due diligence. Try to meet with three law firms (that are Irish, International and Mid-Size to compare). Try and get a feel for what the firms are like, not just what is on their website.

What are the people like? Are they involved in CSR? Diversity & Inclusion have been hot topics in law firms this year, what are they doing to overcome this? Do you know anyone who works in the firm, what do they think about the firm? Is this somewhere you could be happy?
If you are approaching qualification and are unsure on your next steps, hopefully the above will be of some use to you.
If you have any questions, or looking for any further advice on your transition to a NQ solicitor please do not hesitate to get in contact for a confidential conversation.