The legal profession

How is the Irish legal profession organised?

Irish lawyers may be either barristers or solicitors. Barristers are members of the Bar, the senior branch of the legal profession. They may be junior counsel (BL) or senior counsel (SC), and may be recognised by their traditional gowns and tabs. Most practising barristers in Ireland are members of the Law Library in Dublin, though this is not required. Solicitors, who deal directly with the public, instruct (or ‘brief’) barristers to appear in court or provide expert opinions. There are more than three times as many practising solicitors as there are barristers in Ireland. Most of those coming into the profession are now women.

What’s the difference between barristers and solicitors?

Barristers tend to appear in court (particularly the higher courts) and to be experts in particular areas of law. Solicitors tend to do more office work, although they have the right to appear in all courts. Most judges in the higher courts are still barristers, although solicitors are increasingly being appointed as judges in the superior courts. Barristers are sole practitioners. (The chambers system which exists in England is not officially used in Ireland.) In contentious matters, a barrister may currently be briefed only by a solicitor and may seldom deal directly with a member of the public. However, the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 includes proposals to change many of the ways law is practised in Ireland, including the limitations on direct access to barristers and the regulation of the legal profession.

How should judges be addressed?

Since April 2006, ALL judges, whether formerly solicitors or barristers, have been addressed simply as ‘Judge’ (or ‘a bhreithimh’ if conducting a case in Irish). When a court consists of more than one judge, practitioners may refer to ‘the Court’ (or ‘an Chúirt’ in Irish). It is a mistake to use the term ‘My Lord’, which was the former mode of address for men and women judges in the higher courts. It is also wrong to refer to Irish judges simply as ‘Justice’, which is an American term. They should be referred to as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss Justice, depending on their personal preferences.

How are lawyers dressed in Ireland?

Except in family law and juvenile proceedings, senior counsel normally wear a short wig and black silk gown with a square collar and long sleeves over a buttoned court coat, and a stiff wing collar with tabs (or bands). Junior counsel wear a black poplin (or ‘stuff’) gown with a gathered yoke and ‘purse’ over their shoulder, with a similar collar and bands. All counsel, including women, must wear ‘dark’ colours under their gown. Supreme Court judges wear a black woollen gown with green double-ribbon bands on the sleeves and a white neck tab, while High Court judges wear a black coat and waistcoat the same as senior counsel, a black Irish poplin gown and white bands. No judges or barristers are now required to wear wigs, though barristers are permitted to continue wearing wigs if they choose to do so. Solicitors wear business suits or business dresses, and do not need to wear wigs or gowns.

How do I become a barrister?

If you have a non-law degree, a foreign law degree or are a mature student with the appropriate qualifications, you may be admitted to the two-year part-time legal studies diploma course at the King’s Inns in Dublin. If you have an approved law degree, you may apply for entrance to the one-year full-time (or two-year modular) degree course at the King’s Inns. There is an entrance examination for admission to the Barrister-at-Law degree course which is held annually in August or September. It comprises exams in five subjects: contract, criminal law, Irish constitutional law, the law of evidence and torts.

May I practise as a barrister as soon as I pass my final exam?

Students who successfully complete the degree course are admitted by the Chief Justice to the degree of Barrister‐at‐Law in a ceremony in the Supreme Court. They may immediately practise in all the courts in the Republic of Ireland, although the Bar of Ireland requires that new barristers must first complete a year of apprenticeship with an experienced barrister. This is known as ‘devilling’ (‘pupillage’ in England and Wales or Northern Ireland) and the first-year barrister is known as a ‘devil’. (Under s 134 (1) of Part 9 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, barristers whose names are not on a new roll will be considered ‘unqualified’ and may not provide legal services.) Barristers qualified in the Republic of Ireland need to be called to the Bar of Northern Ireland to enable them to practise there.

Can I work as an intern in a barrister’s firm to obtain experience?

Irish barristers do not have firms and do not employ interns or other legal staff. If you are interested in working for a firm of solicitors, you should contact the Law Society, Blackhall Place, Dublin 7, D07 VY24, telephone +353-1-6724800.

How do I become a solicitor?

Contact the Law Society for details.


How long do I have to wait before I can get a divorce?

You have to be separated for at least four of the past five years before you can obtain a divorce in Ireland. As a result, “Ireland has one of the lowest divorce rates in Europe, and that is to be welcomed,” said Fine Gael justice minister Charlie Flanagan in an Oireachtas debate in 2019. It may be possible to be separated while living under the same roof. (A referendum is due to take place on 24 May 2019. If approved, the government will bring forward a Bill to reduce the minimum living-apart period to “at least two years” during the previous three. The Oireachtas has passed the Thirty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Dissolution of Marriage) Bill 2016.)

Is my foreign divorce recognised in Ireland?

If you obtained a divorce while domiciled outside the Republic of Ireland, the decree will be recognised in Ireland. If a person goes to a foreign country merely to obtain a divorce (such as the ‘quickie divorces’ available in some American states), that divorce would not be recognised in Ireland. For further information, see the 1986 Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act. Since March 2005, European Council Regulation 2201/2003 (Brussels IIA) has governed the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters throughout the European Union (with the exception of Denmark). The Irish government is proposing an amendment on May 24 2019 to replace Article 41.3.3 of the Irish Constitution.

Can I do the divorce myself?

If you wish – there’s no necessity to go to the expense of a barrister or solicitor. The forms are available on this website. However, if there is any area of disagreement between you and your spouse, you would be well advised to consult a good family law solicitor.

Can I make a final settlement with my spouse?

If you can agree everything between yourselves and the court is satisfied that proper provision has been made for both parties, you can ask the court to ‘rule’ the agreement, which will give it the force of a court order. But a judge may decide that proper provision has not been made for both spouses or for any dependent children. Also a spouse may not contract out of the future right to claim maintenance or to seek a variation of an existing maintenance order. The courts will always consider varying an order where circumstances have changed, taking into account the best interests of any children and both spouses.

Where can I find out more?

Contact a good family law solicitor or the family law office at your local Circuit or District Court.

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