A quick Q&A about trainee solicitors in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Ciaran Foster is a trainee solicitor in Shoosmiths’ Belfast office. Here he shares an insight into the trainee solicitor programme at national law firm Shoosmiths, as he catches up with Samantha Hope, the firm’s emerging talent manager.

As Shoosmiths continues to grow its presence in Northern Ireland, what are the plans for trainee recruitment for our Belfast office?

As the Belfast office grows and the number of legal advisors in the office grows, we hope that the trainee solicitor numbers will grow too. Typically, when we start out in a in a brand-new location, trainees may only have a couple of seats (departments) in that office, and may split their time across two office locations, so they can experience different areas of law. 

Because Northern Ireland is a separate jurisdiction to England and Wales, and Scotland, we didn’t have the same transition period, but rather jumped straight in with full-time trainees. Initially we started with one trainee, the next year, we added another two, and the current plans are to have two new trainee solicitors starting each year, so that we have four in the business at any one time. 

How successful has the programme been so far?

A big part of a programme’s success is the support that it receives from people ‘on the ground’ and in that office location. The partners and solicitors have supported the training programme and its growth by committing to offering training seats and dedicating time to training individuals. 

From an emerging talent point of view, it is successful because we're continuing to recruit each year and plan for the next. Because we are relatively new to Northern Ireland (we opened the Shoosmiths office in Belfast in December 2016, and our first trainee solicitor joined in September 2021) there is still a lot of work to be done from people in the office itself, and the talent acquisition team too, to make sure that Shoosmiths is a name that's recognised within the Northern Irish legal market.

What makes us stand out is that we are the law firm clients choose for excellent service, incisive thinking and above all for our ability to focus on what matters – and that applies to all of our office locations, no matter the jurisdiction.

The route to becoming a qualified solicitor in Northern Ireland is unique – how have you found adapting to the new process?

From an emerging talent team point of view, it's always challenging when we're developing a new programme, but it’s exciting too, and it opens up a great opportunity for the firm to reach a new pool of junior talent. 

The programme itself is different to England and Scotland because of the structure. In Northern Ireland applicants must have an NI qualifying law degree, and will study at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen's University Belfast to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Legal Studies. All applicants to the IPLS must sit an entrance examination in the December prior to the year they wish to attend, then they must also find a Master as a condition of securing their place. Similarly to trainees in England and Scotland, if you are offered a training contract, Shoosmiths will fund your postgraduate studies at the IPLS. 

The training contract itself is two years in length and is made up of time spent undertaking practical in-office training and time spent studying. The difference in England and Scotland is that the postgraduate studies are completed first, followed by two-years practical in-office experience.

Timetable for applicants

 1 May - 30 June 2023   Apply for a summer vacation placement work experience at Shoosmiths 
 7 Aug - 11 Aug 2023  Undertake summer vacation placement work experience at Shoosmiths
 1 Sept - 15 Oct 2023  Apply for a training contract at Shoosmiths
 Sept 2023  Online applications open via the IPLS website
 Nov 2023  Deadline for submission of applications to IPLS
 22 Nov 2023  Attend an assessment centre at Shoosmiths
 Dec 2023  Admissions Test
 March 2024  First round of results from IPLS
 Aug 2024  Closing date for registration of Articles of Apprenticeship with the Law Society.
 2 Sept 2024  Commence your training contract at Shoosmiths


To view the full information booklet for applicants, click here

Why would you encourage graduates to apply to Shoosmiths in Belfast?

It's a really exciting time to join Shoosmiths; David Jackson took the lead as CEO in May 2022, we’ve recently refreshed our strategy, our values, and most recently, in June 2023 we unveiled a new brand that supports the strategy to deepen client relationships through excellence, consistency and focus.

The change to the firm’s visual image reveals a bold, more corporate look and feel, along with the strapline ‘For What Matters’, highlighting Shoosmiths’ place as a trusted advisor to all clients.

Our Belfast office is modestly sized (46 people) which means you’ll quickly get to know everyone.  Being a trainee in this environment is a great learning opportunity and you’ll be able to have a real input into the growth of the office and get a broader view of how the business operates, which is really beneficial at the beginning of your career.

How can an applicant apply to Shoosmiths? 

You’ll find the link to make an application on the Shoosmiths website here along with information about what you can expect from your training contract and the application process. 

I also recommend taking a look at the frequently asked questions page where you’ll find things like the current trainee salary, which is £23,000 for a first year, £25,000 for a second year, and £35,000 on qualification (as of June 2023).

Finally, to stay up to date with the latest information about the firm, follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and read our careers blog.  

You may also be interested to read Ciaran’s blog where he puts five partners in the hot seat to ask them what it’s really like to work as a lawyer in Northern Ireland. 
If you have any questions, you can email us at [email protected]


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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