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My route to qualification was via what is often termed the ‘scenic’ route with plenty of twists and turns along the way. I sat my first state examination in 1995 and my last in 2014. In those two decades I completed my bachelors and post-graduate education and clocked up 20 years in a variety of workplaces working as a paralegal as well as raising my daughter from infant to graduate herself.
I always wanted to be a lawyer, thanks to watching lots of courtroom dramas like Law & Order growing up. I always wanted to help people; and I’m honoured to have qualified in the year when the solicitor profession in Ireland has become the first in the world to have a majority female membership. However, right up to the day I walked in the door of the Law Society for my first day as a trainee solicitor there were no guarantee I would be one of those female solicitors.
I had my daughter young, which meant I had to prioritise putting a roof over her head and food in her mouth over my dreams of becoming a lawyer. Financially, committing to the training was a huge ask, as was the time commitment. I managed to take my FE1s in the early 2000s and then put qualification on the back burner until a calendar check alerted me to the quietly ticking clock of FE1s going out of date. On contacting the training solicitor who had offered me a training contract some years back, I was taken aback to find that he himself would not be in business much longer. The gently named ‘downturn’ had claimed another victim and he could not in good conscience offer me a contract he wouldn’t be able to fulfil. This left me with; literally; days (14 of them) ticking on the clock to find a replacement to attend my first solicitor training course.
Faced with a good friend putting into words the voice in my head ‘if you really want to be a solicitor you’ll make it happen’, it was time to decide if I really wanted this. At a time when seasoned solicitors were struggling to keep the doors open was this a risk I was willing to take? When it came down to it, it became so clear, there was nothing else I wanted to do more than I wanted to qualify as a solicitor, so it was up to me to make it happen. I resolved to contact every single contact I had made working in-house and in general practice over a decade and a half and I struck gold with the very first firm I ever worked for where the managing partner was kind enough to have some memory of my working there and agreed to sign on the dotted line of my training contract. Without that signature there was the very real possibility that I might never have qualified despite coming so close.
Once I had secured my training contract it still wasn’t plain sailing. I had suffered Crohn’s disease since my mid twenties and the day before my training contract began I was hospitalised and had to have surgery later that year. Two months after my first day I was finally well enough to start.
I remember my first day of my solicitors training so clearly, less for what I did and said and more for how I felt. I had a sense of coming full circle and felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to finally fulfil my dream. I had worried that I’d be the oldest kid in class but although I had classmates not much older than my daughter I also had those who could have had me as a daughter. I learned that the diversity of my class offered up a variety of life experiences and talents from qualified accountants and former Gardaí to experienced legal executives. Together we pooled our resources and shared our talents as we walked together over the finish line.
Another big piece of the puzzle which helped me on that home straight was the support of the Law Society Student Development Service. I felt supported when ill-health threatened my ability to complete my training and it is a privilege that I am now employed in Student Development Services in the Law Society so that I am in a position to assist other future solicitors achieve their dreams too.
So, what have I learned on this winding path? Well I’ve learned that regardless of our path to train as lawyers, when we get to the training course and the world of practice beyond, it’s all up to us to show what we can do; no one can do it for us, we’ve earned our place at the table and it’s up to us to show what we can do with it. I’ve learned that if you don’t really want something – nothing will make you; but if you really want it, nothing will stop you.
Rosemarie Hayden is a solicitor and a Student Development Advisor at The Law Society
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