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Law Society's new flexible approach to becoming a Waterford solicitor

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Law Society provides a new flexible approach to becoming a solicitor

Waterford’s future solicitors can now take entrance exams in a more timely and effective manner

New regulations came into operation on January 1 that mean Waterford’s future solicitors can now take the Final Examination First Part (FE-1) earlier in their studies, can sit and pass less exams in their first attempt, and have a longer time frame to pass all eight core subjects.

The changes outlined in the Solicitors Acts 1954 to 2011 (Apprenticeship and Education) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 will provide a more flexible approach to becoming a solicitor.

“These new regulations will reduce barriers and provide greater access to the profession for trainees across diverse educational, professional and socio-economic backgrounds," says Law Society of Ireland director of education T P Kennedy. 

“A longer time frame to complete FE-1 exams provides a more open and practical approach to these exams. These changes adapt to the modern needs of trainees and help accommodate candidates who may not have been able to study for and sit three exams or more at a time because of time restraints to study, travelling to sit them or other commitments."

Streamlining FE-1 exams

The FE-1 is the entrance exam to the Law Society’s Professional Practice Course. This exam ensures that trainee solicitors, who can come from all backgrounds, degree or no degree, start their practical training in the Law Society with a consistent standard of knowledge in the core eight subjects. 

Previously candidates had to sit and pass a minimum of three subjects in one sitting of their FE-1 exams, before being able to proceed. The new regulations mean that candidates can now sit and pass just one exam at a time. In addition, the time frame which all eight subject exams should be passed is being extended from five to seven years.

“FE-1 candidates will now see greater return for their efforts. Understanding that exams don’t always go as expected, candidates can now carry their pass marks forward regardless of how they performed in their other exams,” says Mr Kennedy.

“This is a move towards understanding the lives of those wanting to become a solicitor and will be welcomed by FE-1 candidates across the board.”

Practical changes

College students no longer have to wait until they receive their degree to sit the FE-1 exams. Students who have completed the first year of a course leading to a qualification at level 7 or higher on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications, or a degree awarded by a university in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, are now eligible to sit the FE-1 exams. These students can achieve provisional pass results, which will be recognised once they have obtained their final degree.

“Third level students will now be able to study for and sit their FE-1 exams while they are studying those modules at university,” says Mr Kennedy. “These new changes will accelerate access to the solicitors’ profession, potentially shortening the time graduates spend between university and the start of the Professional Practice Course. We may start seeing our youngest qualified solicitors yet.”

The FE-1 is held in Dublin twice a year, normally in spring and autumn, and consists of eight papers on core legal subjects. This year, the Society is also offering an additional sitting in Cork in March 2020.

“These changes are an exciting, logical and practical step towards flexible learning. We look forward to welcoming future solicitors to the Law Society,” he adds.

PPC Hybrid

In December 2019, the Law Society launched Professional Practice Course Hybrid (PPC Hybrid), a new version of its Professional Practice Course. It is specifically aimed at delivering a flexible route to solicitor qualification without the traditional requirement to be onsite at Blackhall Place in Dublin full-time for a six-month period.

The PPC Hybrid combines online lectures with face-to-face tuition to provide a flexible route to practice. There are 46 students taking part in this year’s pilot course. Fifty-five per cent of these are over 30 and two-thirds are female.