Like many areas of life in the 21st century, law has become a global activity. Most law firms require lawyers to meet with clients all over the world and provide advice in their region. On top of this, the global recession has meant clients of all stripes, from global corporations to private individuals to governments, have less money to spend.
This means law firms hire fewer lawyers and increasingly buy technology to do tasks that were once a junior lawyer’s preserve. Becoming a lawyer is more difficult and competitive than it has ever been.
But legal education has not kept pace and tends to offer a more straightforward career path. Those trainees educated locally in a given jurisdiction – from England to Hong Kong – then apply to take local qualifications and gain local experience, often in a training contract with a single firm.
Not only can this leave them without the breadth of qualifications they might need, it can take a long time that could be better spent building up experience in a specialist subject, be it refugees’ human rights or international aviation financing.
It was in the early stages of these changes to the industry that Irish barrister and New York attorney Oliver Connolly returned home after a three-year stint in Manhattan. He says of the slog to become a lawyer in the UK and Ireland: “I swore there had to be an easier way of doing this.”
His American experience showed him that, because passing the New York bar exam leads directly to admission as an attorney, candidates could start work – and gain experience – right away. He also found himself more in demand with a European legal education and a qualification in US law that underpins so much international activity.
Qualification as a New York or California attorney is now the indicator of internationality and legal excellence for the international traded sector
So Mr Connolly acquired the Irish rights to the most successful bar preparation programme in the United States, Barbri Inc, and launched Friarylaw (now Barbri International) to help Irish lawyers navigate a changing legal landscape. His customisation of the US curriculum produced qualified lawyers that “outperformed all the top Ivy League schools at the New York and/or California bar examinations”.
This attracted Barbri Inc, who purchased the company, and is now backing expansion into the UK and further afield. Mr Connolly says: “From Aberdeen to the Cape of Good Hope, we meet every candidate individually, but not every candidate will end up doing our programme – there’s an element of pain and suffering associated with it.”
However, it works. “We are 30 short of 1,000 alumni and we don’t have unemployed New York or California attorneys. The international traded sector loves the qualification and they all get hired into global legal services, at home or abroad,” he says.
Candidates work with facilitators who themselves have qualified via Barbri International’s programme. All sit mock exams in the UK under real conditions before they travel to the US for the official exam. “Up to half our candidates have passed a mock exam three weeks before they travel,” says Mr Connolly.
Neshan Minassian, a recently qualified New York attorney working at a US investment bank in London, says he was struck by how much they knew their stuff. “The administration of the course was smooth and, as I was working full-time, I found the tailored study plans especially helpful, as they helped organise my time,” he says.
For more information please visit www.barbri-international.com
Candidates can still enrol for the February 2015 exam throughout the month of October