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Future of country solicitors at risk as trainee solicitors concentrate in cities, survey finds

Major survey of solicitors shows 11 counties had just one, or no, trainee solicitor last year

The country solicitor may be at risk of disappearing with almost nine-in-10 trainee solicitors last year concentrated in Dublin and Cork, according to a major new survey of solicitors in the Republic.

Eight counties had just one trainee solicitor in 2022, three had none and legal “deserts” are emerging across the State when it comes to providing family law and legal aid services, the survey discloses.

Counties Tipperary, Mayo, Westmeath, Kilkenny, Carlow, Leitrim, Offaly and Laois each recorded just one trainee; while Roscommon, Monaghan and Longford had none.

Solicitors working in large firms and in-house in the private and public sector expressed more optimism about the future for the profession than sole practitioners and solicitors in small firms.


Of some 12,000 solicitors here, 2,264 responded to the survey carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes for the Law Society of Ireland as it prepares a plan to navigate the profession through the next five years.

More than one-in-five (21 per cent) are working in-house in the private and public sectors; 23 per cent are partners; 28 per cent described themselves as solicitors; 13 per cent as sole practitioners and five per cent as trainees.

In an interview with The Irish Times, the society’s director general, Mark Garrett, said the survey reflects the “massive” changes and challenges society and the economy have undergone over the past 25 years.

The results demonstrate “lots of positives” but also “significant challenges”, including a justice and court system that is “under pressure and underfunded”, Mr Garrett said.

The positives are a “vibrant” and growing profession, up from 4,500 solicitors 25 years ago to some 12,000 last year, and a significant demand for legal services in a range of new areas including aviation law, technology and the new assisted decision-making process.

The society has 1,600 trainee solicitors, its highest ever number, and hundreds of solicitors are providing legal expertise to the law reform process here, Mr Garrett said.

Other “really positive” aspects include a “world class” commercial justice system promoted internationally as a destination for legal services which underpins “a really significant portion of Irish society and economy, our multinational sector”.

However, the society shares many of the concerns that retired High Court judge, Deirdre Murphy, recently highlighted about the justice system, particularly that people are finding it more difficult to access justice, Mr Garrett said.

The family law courts, family law justice system and legal aid system are under pressure and under resourced, and that impacts on smaller firms or sole practitioners who are finding it difficult to hold general practices in the community offering those services, he said.


If that part of the legal system is undermined, that will undermine the justice system as a whole, Mr Garrett said. “You can’t have a system where you’re saying certain parts work well but others don’t. That is not a good place to be, so we would share a lot of her [Ms Murphy’s] concerns.”

Asked about challenges for the profession, 91 per cent cited cybersecurity/cybercrime, 82 per cent highlighted recruitment/talent retention and 81 per cent said regulations and compliance changes. According to the survey, almost eight-in-10 were concerned about meeting the expectations of clients and 78 per cent about wellbeing/mental health.

Opportunities for the profession, identified mainly by in-house solicitors and those in larger firms, included the hybrid-working environment, digital technology, supporting employers against cybercrime, new technologies including artificial intelligence, and growth in the Irish economy.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times