Ken Murphy: profession suffering

The Law Society of Ireland (LSI) has defended its practice of educating hundreds of student solicitors despite a massive decline in the number of jobs available in the profession. Nearly 1,000 students will have taken 'entrance' exams in 2010 by the time the year ends, and paid the LSI for doing so. However, hundreds of students who have entered the jobs market in recent years have not been able to secure jobs.

Defending its stance, the LSI said it could not discourage people from entering the profession and insisted it would lose money on exams this year as the number of applicants continues to fall.

"We treat all of these individuals as adults," said Ken Murphy, director general of the LSI.

"It's their own judgement and decision to pursue this career and for many people they will still find that they will be able to follow successful careers in Ireland."

The LSI said it sympathises with the plight of Ireland's unemployed solicitors and other staff attached to legal firms that have suffered, primarily as a result of the collapse in real estate transactions.

In 2008, a total of 1,637 people sat the eight exams necessary to qualify for a solicitor's 'apprenticeship', or training position. This year, that number fell to just 987, a drop of 40%.

It is an extreme shift in culture in an industry once perceived to be safe, lucrative and relatively easy to access, yet today there are as many as 1,200 unemployed solicitors and a further 1,500 in training, hoping to secure full- time jobs upon qualification.

"It is reflecting the precipitous collapse of the economy and the solicitor's profession in particular," said Murphy. "One of the mainstays of the profession's income traditionally is residential and commercial conveyance and that has virtually completely disappeared."